GAO rips US-VISIT program, lawmakers are seething

Report says border control program's costs are spiraling out of control with no accountability. House members say, 'Give us the plan or scrap it.'

According to a GAO report (PDF) released in February, the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program's costs are spiraling out of control "without any accompanying explanation of the reasons," Wired News reports.

Randy Hite, the author of the GAO report, described US-VISIT as a plane flying aimlessly. "We're asking for a pilot to program in a destination," Hite said. "Instead, we have it on autopilot with no destination."

US-VISIT is intended as a border control system. A digital photo and fingerprints are taken when foreigners enter the US and these are checked against a database of suspects. Actually, Wired says the database consists of "scores of government watchlists stored in a hodgepodge of backend databases." But there's virtually no system in place to know when visitors have left the country.

In a hearing at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security earlier this month, chairman Rep. David Price (D-North Carolina) expressed concern that the DHS still has no "meaningful exit capacity" for the US-VISIT program.

"The total resources provided to this program would exceed $2 billion over the five years since 9/11," Price said, counting $462 million in funding requested for 2008. "But we still have no way to know if people visiting the U.S. have left, even though we know that millions of undocumented aliens in this country are so-called 'overstays.' This ignorance is both a security gap and a key problem for immigration reform."

And Republican Harold Rogers of Kentucky sounded ready to pull the plug:
"I've had it," rumbled Rogers, the ranking minority member on the subcommittee, at the hearing. "We've withheld funds and released them, dribbled them out long enough. Face up to it. Give us the plan. If you can't do the plan, scrap US-VISIT.... How can we do our job if you won't tell us where you're going?"

A spokesperson for the program says GAO's complaints are outdated and "everything is on track."

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