The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is taking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to task for mismanaging the development of its new Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) system, according to a NextGov report. HART will serve as DHS’s new biometric database, replacing the legacy Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) that debuted in 1994.
The problem, according to the GAO, is that the HART project is now several years behind schedule. DHS announced the project back in 2015, and had originally planned to roll out the system in four increments. The first would go into effect at the end of the 2020 fiscal year, while the rest would be completed before the end of 2021.
Unfortunately, the organization has yet to finish any of those increments. The first is now expected in December, while the others will not arrive until as late as 2024. The third and fourth increments have also been collapsed into a single phase that hints at future capabilities.
Those delays have led directly to costly budget overruns for the project, which now has an anticipated price tag of $4.3 billion. Some of the more recent delays were attributed to COVID-19, though some of the budget creep predates the pandemic. For example, Northrop Grumman signed a $95 million contract for the first two phases back in 2017, and that contract ballooned to $143 million over the course of 12 revisions.
In the meantime, DHS and its partner organizations have had to rely on the outdated IDENT system. IDENT can still make face, fingerprint, and iris matches, but it is not a cloud-based solution and cannot scale to deal with larger quantities of data. HART is supposed to fix that problem, but DHS cannot start using it until the first phase is complete. At that point, the organization will retire IDENT and migrate to HART, which will be hosted by Amazon Web Services.
In addition to the budget complaints, GAO criticized DHS for moving forward with a partial risk management and mitigation plan, with only four of seven best practices implemented in full. The organization has asked DHS to address those half measures, and DHS has set timelines for accomplishing those objectives.
June 11, 2021 – by Eric Weiss