Blog: Experts Ponder Both Sides of Border Security
Managing the myriad programs designed to provide border security has proved challenging. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has launched a variety of technology efforts designed to enhance border security. Likewise, civilian firms are deeply involved with DHS in supporting these programs. Two panels running Wednesday examined the government and industry perspectives of coordinating border security. To adequately track the millions of people crossing U.S. borders every day, the DHS launched the US VISIT program. Initiated in 2004, the program logs and records the identities of foreign nationals entering the United States. To date, more than 100 million people are enrolled in US VISIT, said Steve Yonkers, deputy assistant director, Business Policy and Training, Program Integration and Mission Training, US VISIT, DHS. As the program has expanded, it began to provide services to other organizations in the DHS, the Defense Department and intelligence communities. Yonkers explained that as of 2009, US VISIT has expanded its biometric identification capabilities to electronically record all 10 of a visitor's fingerprints. Once a customer is enrolled into the system, when they return to the United States, they only have to imprint four fingerprints for verification. The DHS has also tested mobile identification systems and created an information sharing plan with the Department of Justice which allows officials to search for criminal records. Art Macius, chief of staff at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) added that organizations such as his and the DHS must also share information with their international counterparts. This international cooperation includes efforts such as cargo screening for commercial aircraft though efforts such as the Secure Flight program. Macius said that by this spring, the program will work with U.S. airlines to screen baggage and air cargo, and that the coverage will extend to international carriers by the end of the year. Representatives of commercial firms discussed the DHS programs their organizations were supporting during the closing session on Wednesday. Panel moderator Paul Druckman, director of DHS business development at Accenture outlined the business environment for providing the biometric component of US VISIT. He noted that the DHS has tested a variety of methods to record visitors' biometric data when they enter and exit the country. From Accenture's perspective, Druckman sees a very dynamic period for technology companies providing solutions for DHS and for similar international organizations. This growth of solutions will be followed by best of breed solutions and finally a period of industry consolidation. Installing new equipment into legacy installations remains a challenge. Gena Alexa, a partner with Unisys' Customs and Border Protection division shared the details of work her firm performed in support of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). The goal of WHTI is to provide U.S. citizens with RFID chip-equipped passports and identification cards to facilitate cross-border travel. Alexa described how Unisys installed RFID readers in the nation's border crossings, noting that each facility was different. The company fitted 62 sites across the country by the June 1, 2009 deadline. The new technology cut customer wait times by 25 percent, she said.