Integrative Exam Question - January 2004 - Prepared by Frank Field


The US Department of Homeland Security has recently initiated the US-VISIT program, screening all visitors to the United States at its borders (see U.S. Begins Screening Program for Monitoring Foreign Visitors, January 6, 2004 and World Opinion Is Fragmented on Tighter Security for Visitors, January 7, 2004, both from The New York Times).

Key features of this screening process are (purported to be) a digital fingerprint capture/record technology and the taking of a digital photograph, to be tied to physical identification materials (passports/visas) via a large information system. As the DHS press release states:

US-VISIT requires that most foreign visitors traveling to the U.S. on a visa have their two index fingers scanned and a digital photograph taken to verify their identity at the port of entry. The US-VISIT program will enhance the security of U.S. citizens and visitors by verifying the identity of visitors with visas. At the same time, it facilitates legitimate travel and trade by leveraging technology and the evolving use of biometrics to expedite processing at our borders.

"US-VISIT represents the greatest improvement in border inspection in more than three decades, and is a shining example of what we can achieve when government works together," said Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary of Border and Transportation Security of the Department of Homeland Security. "US-VISIT is actually a continuum of security measures that begins overseas, at the U.S. consular offices issuing visas, where biometrics will be collected to determine if the applicant is on a database of known or suspected criminals or terrorists. When the visitor gets to our border, we use the same biometrics - these digital "fingerscans" - to verify that the person at our port is the same person who received the visa or to see if we have learned new information about any involvement in terrorism or crime. This type of identity verification helps our Customs and Border Protection Officers make better admissibility decisions and enhances the overall integrity of our immigration system."

The Department of Homeland Security today also began a pilot test of exit procedures for departing passengers holding visas. A departure confirmation program using automated kiosks is being tested at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and at selected Miami Seaport cruise line terminals. Foreign visitors exiting the United States from those locations will be required to confirm their departure at the kiosk. US-VISIT officials will evaluate the tests and consider alternatives to the automated kiosks for departure confirmation throughout 2004.

Congress has mandated that an automated entry-exit program be implemented at the 50 busiest land ports of entry by December 31, 2004, and at all land ports by December 31, 2005. A Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued in November to engage the private sector to help the US-VISIT program develop the optimum solutions for entry and exit processing. The contract will be awarded in May 2004.

Problem Statement

Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary of Border and Transportation Security of the DHS, has asked you to consider a subset of the issues that the US-VISIT program will face in the pursuit of its mission. Note that the above-referenced RFP includes a Mission and Vision for the program in Section C.1: Mission and Vision of the US-VISIT Program (pp. 8-10).

In anticipation of receipt of the proposals in response to this RFP, the Under Secretary is assembling a set of analysts to develop the bases upon which these proposals will be evaluated. You are one of these analysts, and you have been tasked with considering the implications of Section C.5.3 of the statement of work: Unique Information Technology Challenges (pp. 20-21). Section C.5.3 outlines the scope of the problem that the contractor will be expected to resolve in terms of consolidation of a host of information collection systems into a single instrument for managing the transit of visitors across the "virtual border" of the United States.

You have been tasked with writing a "white paper" that will outline what the necessary elements of a solution to the issues raised in Section C.5.3 must contain, with particular emphasis upon how to identify the elements that will be required to maximize the likelihood that the contractor will succeed in meeting the objectives of this Section from a technical and organizational perspective while satisfying the policy goals outlined in the mission statement.

Ground Rules

  1. The white paper should be no more than 10 double spaced pages in length

  2. The focus of the paper should be upon the issues raised in Section C.5.3 from the perspective of the implementation of this task in the face of the policy objectives and organizational complexities.

    • How will the Under Secretary know a good approach from a bad one?

    • What are the hallmarks of such approaches?

    • Upon what do you base these determinations?

  3. The technological issues should be discussed from the perspective of an informed, technically competent engineering policy analyst, rather than that of an IT professional. Others will be tasked with preparing the purely IT assessment guidelines. Rather, you should focus upon issues of complexity, system limits, organizational boundaries, etc. (Please: no discussions of the benefits of the 3rd normal form, T3 lines or strategies for achieving transactional integrity)

  4. In principle, you should require no further research materials other than those that can be accessed through the links supplied here. This is not a question directed at finding out how much you can learn about the various information systems cited; rather, the objective is to see how well you can characterize what you see are the necessary elements of a good approach based upon what you know already.

    • Moreover, please do not waste your time plowing through the entire RFP; Section C should be more than sufficent. Believe me, there are far better uses for your time!!

Good luck!