Congress rejects funding increase for DHS biometric system, directs independent review

The spending bill also cuts the Biden administration's request for the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology system.

Congress is directing the Department of Homeland Security to commission an independent review of DHS’ beleaguered next-generation biometrics system, while also panning a proposed funding increase for the delayed project.

The fiscal 2023 omnibus spending bill signed into law last week homes in on DHS’ Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology, or HART, System. HART is intended to replace the legacy Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) used by DHS components to share information about foreign nationals in facilitating travel, trade and immigration.

“The department is directed to initiate an independent evaluation of HART in fiscal year 2023 by an entity outside of DHS that follows the National Institute of Standards and Technology requirements for independent verification and validation,” the homeland security spending section states.

Civil liberties and immigration groups have raised concerns about the “open-ended range” of information HART will process regarding both citizens and non-citizens.

The bill also directs DHS to report on “the technology, data collection mechanisms, and sharing agreements among DHS immigration enforcement agencies, other federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies, and fusion centers as relates to the development of HART,” the explanatory statement continues.

“The report shall provide details on HART data compiling and a list of data sharing agreements related to the source or recipient of data,” it adds.

The appropriations bill also falls short of the Biden administration’s procurement request for HART in fiscal 2023 by about $17 million “due to ongoing cost, schedule, and performance challenges,” lawmakers write in the explanatory statement. Instead of the requested $38 million, the program’s fiscal 2023 procurement funding will remain at just over $20 million, the same level as last year.

Instead, the bill adds $36 million to the Biden administration’s request for continued operation of the legacy IDENT system “due to the mismanagement of the program and the program’s failure to achieve initial operating capacity” of the HART system.

Furthermore, the bill directs DHS’ Office of Biometric Identity Management to continue briefing DHS oversight committees on a semiannual basis on its “workload, service levels, staffing, modernization efforts, and other operations.” OBIM is the office that oversees the HART program.

HART was initially expected to come online in 2018, but the program has suffered multiple schedule breaches. In its 2022 DHS annual acquisition assessment released last March, the Government Accountability Office reported that HART “remains in breach of cost and schedule goals due to ongoing risks associated with technical development, program requirements and test efforts.”

GAO reported that the HART program was set to finalize a “re-baseline” in March 2022.

DHS procurement cuts, provisions

The DHS management directorate will have $247 million less than what it was requesting for procurement, construction and improvements in fiscal 2023. In addition to the HART cut, the fiscal 2023 spending legislation didn’t include $140 million for a third Joint Processing Center at the Southwest borders. Lawmakers also rejected a $50 million request to finance climate change projects, and they cut $28 million from DHS’s financial systems modernization request.

And on the last item, lawmakers want briefings from the management directorate and the Coast Guard on the “full extent” of the delays the Coast Guard encountered in transitioning to the new financial management system over the past year. The bill also directs DHS officials to brief the committees on “lessons learned from all completed component transitions and measures that are being taken to ensure that further transitions are successful and cost effective, including related costs.”

“The [Chief Financial Officer] shall notify the committees when significant delays are projected to occur,” the explanatory statement adds.

Congress also wants the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — fresh off yet another budget  boost — to increase its outreach to industry partners. The spending bill directs CISA to hold quarterly outreach sessions “with a broad array of small, mid-size, and large cyber security businesses.” It also directs CISA to create opportunities for “small group and one-on-one industry sessions.”



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