The US Congress is signalling dissatisfaction and serious concerns with respect to the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) system.
Intended as a replacement of the legacy IDENT Automated Biometric Identification System, HART is the DHS’s next-generation biometric database. But despite the considerable scope and importance of the program, it has been shrouded in secrecy over the course of its delay-prone development.
In a wide-ranging fiscal omnibus bill, Congress has now directed the DHS to commission an independent audit of its HART program this year. As Federal News Network reports, lawmakers indicated that the audit must be conducted in compliance with NIST standards “for independent verification and validation,” and directed the DHS to disclose its agreements with other government agencies including law enforcement.
That could expose some discomfiting data sharing links from a civil rights and privacy perspective. The DHS has previously raised concerns with disclosures indicating that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has access to HART databases, and it’s very possible that a number of other agencies have quietly been in the loop as well.
In addition to demanding more transparency and oversight, Congress has also taken measures to curb funding for the HART program, rejecting a White House request for $38 million in funding. Instead, Congress has approved another $20 million for HART and $36 million for IDENT, citing “mismanagement of the program and the program’s failure to achieve initial operating capacity”.
HART has come under fire for this kind of thing before. In 2021, the Government Accountability Office criticized the DHS for its serious delays in getting HART operational, and for related budget overruns. It also warned the DHS about not having a fully realized risk management and mitigation plan for HART.
The new omnibus bill directs the GAO to continue briefing DHS managers on a semiannual basis, via the former’s Office of Biometric Identity Management. These briefings don’t seem to have pushed the HART program back on track so far, but together with the independent audit and the budget constraints, they could by part of a more constructive effort going forward.
January 4, 2022 – by Alex Perala