Follow-up Review of the Status of IDENT/IAFIS Integration

E & I Report No. I-2005-001
December 2004

Appendix 7

DOS Comments on the Draft Report

  United States Department of State
Deputy Assistant Secretary
for Visa Services
Washington, D.C. 20522-0113

December 3, 2004

Glenn A. Fine
Inspector General
Office of the Inspector General
Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Mr. Fine:

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this latest draft of the report entitled, IDENT/IAFIS: Follow-up Review of the Status of IDENT/IAFIS Integration. On November 16 I sent you a letter with comments concerning an earlier draft of the report. This letter will provide some additional comments while reiterating some of the views in my earlier letter. Please append my two letters to your report so that readers will be aware of the scope of views on the important subjects the report addresses.

The draft continues to present fundamental inaccuracies on the technology standard, as evidenced by the statement on page 17: "The Commerce Department's NIST has statutory authority to develop and certify a Technology Standard that includes biometrics, in order to verify the identity of individuals applying for a visa or using a visa to enter the United States." This sentence should be struck. As mentioned in my November 16 letter, by section 403(c) of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General--not the NIST --are granted the statutory authority to set the technology standard. While the policy makers must take into consideration recommendations of the NIST, the NIST is assigned only a technical advisory role in the decision-making process. On July 18, 2003, the HSC Deputies Committee decision to adopt the two-print standard reflected the exercise of that statutory authority. Although the current version of the report does contain a footnote of the HSC's decision, such a significant fact should be moved to the body of the text. It is the HSC decision, not the NIST advice, that controls DOS, DHS and DOJ implementation of a technology standard.

Throughout the report there are a number of references to the failure of DOS and DHS to implement the technology standard of NIST. All such references should be struck. DOS and DHS are implementing the July 18, 2003, HSC Deputies Committee decision on the technology standard, which remains in effect.

The draft report ignores other important facts. For example, when NIST asserts that taking 10 flat prints takes only 10 to 15 seconds longer than taking two flat prints, that increased time may not appear to be a relevant factor in the NIST laboratory environment, but its effect on operations at a port of entry would be significant. Moreover, the Department of State is presently conducting a pilot involving collection of 10 flat prints at our Consulate General in Monterrey, Mexico, from visa applicants whose names match NCIC entries in the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS). With a Consulate General employee assisting the person whose fingerprints are being enrolled, it is taking 60 to 90 seconds to enroll I 0 flat prints. That is 30 to 60 seconds longer than it takes to enroll two flat prints without any assistance. Adding one minute of processing time to 7,000,000 visa applications annually has significant workload implications.

Furthermore, because enrollment of 10 flat prints would require shifting the enrollment process off-site at some consular posts, facilities and personnel costs would skyrocket. It is not the responsibility of NIST to consider these operational and cost factors; that is why the statutory authority for such decisions rests with agency heads, with NIST providing technical information for consideration.

Another pilot that the Department of State is undertaking with the cooperation of the FBI provides an automated process for obtaining rap sheets for visa applicants whose fingerprints are on the IDENT watchlist. Under this pilot, which is currently deployed to our embassy in San Salvador, EI Salvador, when the two fingerprints collected from the visa applicant under the Biometric Visa Program match two fingerprints on the IDENT watchlist that refer to an FBI file number, the two fingerprints are then routed back through the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) to IAFIS for a match against the prints in the FBI file, which results in the rap sheet being sent automatically to the CCD to be transferred to the post.

In my November 16 letter to you I outlined a three-step process for transferring fingerprints from IAFIS to IDENT. The two-print pilot being tested at Embassy San Salvador could be deployed globally in conjunction with that three-step process to enable fully automated access by consular officers to rap sheets on visa applicants through biometric identity verification. This would be a main component of the "interoperable electronic data system to provide current and immediate access to information in databases of Federal law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community that is relevant to determine whether to issue a visa or to determine the admissibility or deportability of an alien (also know as the 'Chimera system')" envisioned in section 202 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act.

To recount from my November 16 letter, the three-step process to achieve the realization of this system consists of:

1) Implementation of the initiative by the Department of Homeland Security to develop a means to prioritize the 7-8 million records of foreign-born persons contained in IAFIS. This initiative would allow for the fingerprints of persons with the most serious criminal history records, e.g., homicide, to be transferred first to IDENT.

2) Expansion of the Image Request Services function of IAFIS, which now has a daily capacity to transfer out 7,000 fingerprints, of which 3,000 are allotted to IDENT, to a much greater transfer capacity.

3) Upgrade of the connectivity between IAFIS and IDENT to be able to handle a rapid daily transfer of many thousands of fingerprint files.

To prepare for undertaking steps 2 and 3, we recommend that a consultant be hired to conduct a study of the technical issues involved, with proposals for solutions and cost estimates.

We believe this three-step proposal would cost a fraction of the DOJ proposals to collect 10 fingerprints of visa applicants to be cleared against IAFIS. Most important, our proposal would keep intact the highly successful Biometric Visa and US-VISIT Programs, which the DOJ 10- fingerprint proposals would unnecessarily dismantle in their present forms. The importance of maintaining the Biometric Visa Program in its present form is that it allows the consular officer to focus attention on the visa interview. To require consular officers to detract time from visa interviews in order to expend countless hours of time collecting ten fingerprints would be detrimental overall to our border security.

The Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Justice share a common goal -- to screen visa applicants against criminal history records that would render them ineligible for visas. Of the options available to achieve that goal, we believe our proposal for enhancing the two-print system, which has already been decided upon by the HSC and has proved so successful for border security, would achieve that common goal most effectively and efficiently.



Janice L. Jacobs