By Cynthia L. Webb washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2004; 2:39 PM
"Smile, you're on camera. Now turn to your left so Uncle Sam can complete your official tourist mug shot."
More and more foreign visitors soon will be greeted by camera-wielding officials when they enter the United States, now that the Department of Homeland Security has picked Accenture LLP to help expand its high-tech border security effort.
The U.S. Visit program is an ambitious effort to store vast amounts of visitors' personal data, from photographs and biometric information to travel itineraries and school affiliations (for student visa holders only). Launched at a selected few airports and seaports early this year, U.S. Visit will be rolled out at the nation's 50 busiest land ports by year's end.
As the prime contractor, Accenture stands to make a bundle on a contract that could ultimately be valued at $10 billion over five years -- "one of the largest federal technology contracts in history," as The Wall Street Journal noted in its coverage. The consulting firm can't do the job all by itself, hence a distinguished list of contract partners that includes Titan Corp., SRA International, Raytheon, Dell and KBR, a unit of Halliburton Co.
The New York Times noted that Accenture beat out Lockheed Martin and Computer Sciences for the much-coveted U.S. Visit award. "Several industry executives and analysts said that the award surprised them and that Accenture had widely been considered the outside candidate," the Times said. "Lockheed had been considered the odds-on favorite because of its experience in similar areas," according to a wire story compilation that ran on The Los Angeles Times Web site.
According to The Wall Street Journal, "the contract award drew criticism ranging from the unproven nature of the technology to the Homeland Security Department's ceding management of such a system to outsiders and to the offshore headquarters of Accenture. Keith Ashdown, of Taxpayers for Commonsense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group based in Washington, noted that most of these systems that the contractor winner is supposed to help design and implement are still unproven and not ready for prime time.'"
Schwab Soundview Capital Markets's Erik Olbeter told the Journal the some bidders were upset at how Homeland Security managed the contract award process. Olbeter "said the contest was unusual because instead of dictating requirements, the government left it to the companies to define 'their vision of how to track foreign visitors.'"
National Journal's Technology Daily reported that "Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, ranking member on the House Homeland Security panel, issued a statement following the department's announcement questioning its lack of details. 'Right now, we do not know how the system will work, who will be covered, what technologies will be deployed, and, how much the whole thing will cost,' said Turner."
And according to The New York Times, General Accounting Office investigators "have called the program 'a very risky endeavor' because of management and financial concerns. They have estimated that the total cost, including financing needed from other agencies, could reach $15 billion."
Asa Hutchinson, the DHS Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, had this to say to those questioning the technology underpinning U.S. Visit: "I would've been frustrated if they'd said it was not a risky endeavor," he said, as quoted in the Times. "I could've told you that from Day 1."