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U S Department of Homeland Security: Security management and biometrics

Accenture helps the Department of Homeland Security build a world-class biometrics program.


In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States federal government created the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to protect the nation. The United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) Program, a cornerstone initiative of DHS, was established in 2003 to be a cost-effective and fully interoperable way to share information needed to confirm the identity of persons applying for a visa or seeking to enter the US through a visa.

The goal is to enhance the security of US citizens and visitors, facilitate legitimate travel and trade, help ensure the integrity of the US immigration system and protect visitors’ privacy. Today, US-VISIT operates at close to 300 points of entry and is able to process up to 400,000 transactions per day.


The US economy depends on the quick and efficient movement of people and goods across the borders. At the same time, the missed entry of even one person who poses a threat to the United States could have severe consequences. Addressing the equally imperative needs for security, law enforcement, travel, immigration and trade presented technology, process and program management challenges to the DHS.

The challenges started with the enormity of the data volumes. Every year, the United States sees more than 428 million people (including 280 million non-US citizens) cross America’s borders through more than 300 points of entry. More than 7 million visa applications and nearly 50,000 asylum requests are made every year, and every day, approximately 20,000 people apply for immigration benefits. The data associated with all of these transactions takes many forms—for example, multiple types of traveler and international documentation standards and dozens of languages and naming conventions.

Furthermore, the scale and complexity of developing interoperability among a diverse (and continually growing) group of interested stakeholders—including other federal agencies and state, local and international partners— required not only an immensely flexible and scalable technical architecture, but also effective large-scale communications.


From strategy and design, through implementation and ongoing operations, program management and future improvements, Accenture has been a vital and tightly interwoven service provider to the US-VISIT program. To begin, Accenture coordinated activities and ideas from stakeholders across the federal government, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Citizenship and Immigration Services, Coast Guard, Transportation Security Agency (TSA), Department of State (DoS) and Department of Justice (DoJ).

The result was a vision of how these organizations would work together to dramatically improve operations across the travel continuum. This comprehensive, cross-agency strategy—the first of its kind for implementing a layered security approach—became the guidepost for all of Accenture’s tactical planning.

From a technical standpoint, when Accenture first joined the team, identity verification occurred through a patchwork of biographic and biometric systems that had been pieced together over time to meet the program’s growing needs. While the system worked, it was far from being optimized. (For example, peak performance back then was 75,000 transactions per day, as opposed to 250,000 transactions per day currently. Also, searches to get biometric confirmations of visitors coming to the country can be done in just a few seconds.)

Accenture developed a technological roadmap that would modernize the identity-verification approach. As we moved forward with implementation, we turned custom interfaces and a complex architecture into a flexible, highly available, service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based “single front door.” Through this SOA, a range of stakeholders can now access US-VISIT services quickly and easily.

As we introduced the technology improvements, Accenture also has focused on cost savings. For example, historically for US-VISIT, Accenture has delivered software for 8 percent less than funded.

We introduced automated testing that has saved almost $1 million annually in software testing costs. And we developed technology to allow use of multi-vendor matchers. This last innovation alone not only eliminated the program’s dependence upon a single hardware vendor, but also led to a reduction in matching costs of over 40 percent.

Throughout the program, Accenture has helped US-VISIT advance quickly to meet a rapidly evolving threat landscape. US-VISIT can now add a new organization in as little as three weeks from request approval until the organization is online. In the past, this task took more than nine months. As a result, US-VISIT has been transformed from a border solution to a broader solution with incredible speed and remarkable savings: what started as an entry-exit project for a single agency now provides information to nine different types of stakeholder organizations—from agencies within the US federal government to local law enforcement agencies and even foreign governments.

Moreover, we help US-VISIT continue to stay current with the advances in biometric identification science. Right now we are helping the program advance from the standard two-fingerprint identification to the more robust 10-fingerprint system, and we have begun incorporating additional biometric modalities—facial images, iris, palm prints, scars/marks/tattoos and even DNA.

As Accenture continues to work with US-VISIT to enhance the program, more and more agencies and governments around the world want to use the system. US-VISIT already supports the complementary security missions of the DoD, DoJ and DHS, and the goal of a national “triad defense.”

In addition, 11 other international entities, including the governments of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and even INTERPOL, have requested access to the US-VISIT system and share their data in return. This data sharing can lead to powerful results never seen before. For example, a routine check in US-VISIT stopped a convicted child abuser from the UK from adopting a child in Australia.


US-VISIT stands apart for its history of success after success; its agile response to evolving needs; and its visionary approach to enabling unprecedented interoperability. With Accenture’s help, the program has become a model of innovation, collaboration and high performance for the DHS and for the federal government. Successes include:

  • US-VISIT handles numerous document standards, dozens of languages and occasional conflicts in mandates.

  • It performs searches across more than 140 million unique identities in seconds.

  • It returns ID matches in less than 10 seconds.

  • Every day, US-VISIT identifies, on average:

  • 5,000 illegal visitors

  • 2,500 immigration violators

  • 50 wanted criminals

  • US-VISIT can now identify whether a specific traveler is one of the approximate 6 million individuals on a Watch List in less than five seconds.

  • The program serves 15,000 DHS users, 5,000 workstations and 210 overseas consular posts.

  • The program reduced the time to add a new organization from nine months to three weeks.

  • US-VISIT is a cross-government program that serves nine different types of stakeholder organizations.

  • US-VISIT is accessible by multiple government agencies around the world.

  • Accenture has historically delivered US-VISIT software at 8 percent less than funded.

  • Accenture reduced vendor-matcher costs by over 40 percent by introducing multi-vendor matching.