A report from the Government Accountability Office suggests that progress toward biometric exits at airports still needs work before making the additional security measure a reality.
The report reveals that in February 2013, the Secretary of Homeland Security testified that the DHS plans to report overstay rates by December 2013. DHS officials, however, have yet to assess or document improvements in the reliability of such data used to cultivate overstay records in accordance with federal internal control standards.
Without a documented assessment to back up the reliability of overstay data, the agency would lack the vital information needed to use overstay data for policy-making purposes.
Biometric exit capabilities would see airports collect biometric data, likely fingerprints, to log passengers’ departures, but this utility has been more akin to a pipe dream than a reality for Homeland Security.
Homeland Security has had biometric entry in place at U.S. airports and other border crossing since in 2004. The US-VISIT program has been collecting fingerprint data from foreign travelers and running them against a watch list. Homeland Security has piloted biometric exit but hasn’t full deployed a system, though the 10-busiest airports are supposed to test a system.
The reasoning behind the GAO report, entitled “Overstay Enforcement,” is simple; millions of people visit the United States each year either legally on a temporary basis or without a visa.
Overstays are those individuals who are admitted legally on a temporary basis but overstay their authorized period of admission. Homeland Security maintains the primary responsibility of identifying and taking proper enforcement action to address these overstays.
The GAO has long kept an eye on overstay operations and in April 2011, reported on the DHS’s actions to identify and address overstays, making recommendations to strengthen these processes. The DHS has since agreed and has taken or is in the process of taking steps to address them.
The GAO report, which reviews Homeland Security’s progress since April 2011, addresses the following:
- Homeland Security’s efforts to review its records to identify potential overstays.
- The extent to which Homeland Security changes in its systems or processes have improved data on potential overstays and DHS’s ability to report overstay rates.
- The extent to which Homeland Security has made progress toward establishing a biometric exit system.
To accompany its report, the GAO has prescribed some actions that need to be taken. Specifically, the GAO recommends that Homeland Security assess and document the reliability of its data, establishing time frames and milestones for a biometric air exit evaluation framework.
For more, see the full GAO report here.