Congress rows with DHS over biometric system delays and oversight

The launch of the Department of Homeland Security’s new centralized biometrics system is imminent after years of cost and schedule delays according to agency documents, but lawmakers and immigration advocates are still concerned about cost overruns. and privacy issues.

The Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology System, or HART, is a cloud-based system being built to replace the department’s old 1994 system. It is the largest biographical database in government, currently containing 270 million unique identities — a number that is expected to grow, DHS says in 2023 budget documents.

The project has experienced cost overruns, schedule delays and contract changes since its launch in 2016.

The project is still “in violation of cost and schedule targets”, according to a March 2022 Government Accountability Office reportwhich also indicates that the old system still in use “is at risk of breaking down”.

DHS spent $170 million on HART in fiscal year 2022, according to the Federal IT Dashboard. The agency is seeking a $229.5 million appropriation for HART in fiscal year 2023, according to its budget request.

Now, initial operating capacity for the first of four increases is scheduled for the current fiscal quarter, according to DHS budget documents. The agency did not respond to FCW’s requests for comment on the status of the program.

Once completed, HART will store and process biometric information such as digital fingerprints, iris scans and facial images and link this biographical information and past encounters with DHS components.

Northrop Grumman won a $95 million contract in 2017 to develop HART Increments 1 and 2. The first increment includes migration to GovCloud from Amazon Web Services. A May 24 letter of more than 35 advocacy groups urged AWS to “terminate its agreement to host HART”, due to privacy and human rights concerns.

The House Appropriations Committee recently repeated a request last year for the department to get an independent analysis of the project in an explanatory report released with the DHS appropriations bill, which was recently approved by the House Appropriations Committee on June 24.

There are concerns about program management, timing, functionality and cost. The committee also wants regular updates on the program, a committee aide told FCW.

“The Committee is disappointed that DHS did not take the opportunity to request a truly independent analysis of Project HART,” as officials suggested in the language of the previous report. “The Committee directs the Department to undertake an independent validation and verification effort with a non-DHS entity in fiscal year 2023.”

Lawmakers also called for more transparency about the project’s technology, data collection and data sharing.

HART will be used for immigration control and border enforcement, as well as for background investigations, according to a case notice system for part of the system.

The data comes from a long list of partners: the departments of state, justice, and defense; state and local law enforcement agencies; intelligence agencies and foreign governments. DHS says it may also share information with these government partners.

Critics say they are concerned about the potential for “unfettered surveillance” of US citizens and non-citizens. They indicate the extent of information that will be in the system, such as encounter data, agent feedback, and relationship pattern information, as described in government documents on privacy.

Capitol Hill needs to improve its oversight, the National Immigration Law Center said in a report Last year.

“Implementation delays shouldn’t be the focus of reviewing GAO or appropriations legislation,” he says. “The greatest concern for immigrant communities and the general public is that neither GAO nor any other entity has conducted a meaningful evaluation of the content and use of HART.”

About Shirley L. Kreger

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