The Department of Homeland Security wants contractors' help in developing technologies for meeting new border security goals that require a wider use of electronic passports and all first-time visitors to the U.S. to provide ten fingerprints.
"We don't want to add time [to entering the country]," said Jim Williams, the director of Homeland Security's multibillion technological effort to better track those entering and leaving the country, known as the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT). DHS will spend about $340 million on the biometric-based system in fiscal 2006.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced last summer that the United States was changing its rules for first time visitors to the United States and requiring they provide 10 fingerprints rather than the current two to improve border security and identification.
Williams told reporters recently pilot testing of the program could begin in the next few months at State Department facilities.
He said DHS was working on expanding the program to smaller airports and seaports and that could begin later in the year depending on available budget dollars and other resources.
Williams said DHS is seeking contractors who can develop scanners that can collect 10 fingerprints in about the same 1-minute processing time for collecting two fingerprints.
He said the department wants processing systems that are "more accurate, faster and more mobile" than those currently available.
Williams also said contractors could assist in developing scanners for reading electronic passports, outfitted with computer chips containing digital photos, that the United States will start requiring of some foreign workers this year.
He said the "toughest challenge" in meeting that goal later this fall would be having scanners in place that can quickly read the passports.
Williams said the United States would also work with allies, among them the European Union and Japan, to set common standards for border technology. However, he said, there were no plans to jointly acquire systems with other nations.
Overall, Williams offered a generally optimistic of US-Visit since it first was created in January 2004, noting it met its goals of establishing biometric entry systems at the nation's 50 busiest land ports as well as 104 smaller land entries.
Since 2004, US-Visit has processed more than 44 million visitors and prevented 970 people with criminal violations from entering the country, he added.
Williams could not name any terrorists captured through the system, but said it acted as a deterrent that kept them from entering the country. He also said the system had been implemented without slowing hundreds of millions of dollars in trade and commerce along the borders each day as critics once feared.
"If people say we have slowed them down I'd like them to show me where," he added. "The reality is we have not slowed down people."
Accenture [ACN] is the prime contractor for US Visit.
[Copyright 2006 Access Intelligence, LLC. All rights reserved.]
(C4I News -- 01/20/06)