Outsourcing Our Border Security: The Accenture Contract

ORIGINALLY POSTED: AUGUST, 2004

 

The United States Department of Homeland Security recently awarded the largest contract in DHS’s short history, worth up to $10 billion over the next 10 years, to the Accenture Group, formerly known as Arthur Andersen Consulting – yes, the same Arthur Andersen whose accounting branch was later so heavily involved in the corporate accounting scandal at Enron.  The contract requires Accenture to help set up and administer the new technologies and procedures for keeping track of the over 300 million foreign nationals who visit the United States each year.

 

The US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) program, which was launched in January 2004 to screen foreign nationals entering the United States in order to protect us against terrorism, has already screened over 4.5 million people at 115 seaports and airports nationwide.  Accenture will help expand US-VISIT to include every land border crossing on both the Canadian and Mexican borders.  According to a Homeland Security Department statement, Accenture would provide a wide range of services including strategic support, design and integration activities, technical solutions, deployment activities, training, and organizational change management.

 

The idea behind US-VISIT is that, when a foreign national enters a consulate, embassy, or other office and applies for a visa to enter the United States (or shows up at a border crossing), a digital photograph and set of fingerprints would be taken and compared to the many criminal and national security databases and “watch lists” in use throughout the United States by the various agencies at all three levels of government – federal, state, and local.  Once it is verified that the foreign national is not someone we don’t want here, they would receive a “biometric” ID card which they could then show upon their arrival in the U.S., thereby speeding their way through the customs process (a new set of fingerprints would also be taken to verify they were the correct holder of the ID card).  Accenture will develop the system that runs the check through all the databases, as well as the system that issues the ID card.

 

There are two major challenges involved in this contract.  First, the Homeland Security Department would like the system to be up and running at every seaport, airport, and land border crossing by October 24th of this year.  Many believe this is simply unrealistic.

 

The second challenge is more perplexing: setting up a single system that will be able to communicate with the many database programs that are currently in use throughout this country.  Each agency, whether related to law enforcement or national security, whether federal, state or local, has accepted bids when choosing a database program, and made their choice based on that agency’s own criteria.  As a result, there are almost as many database programs in use across America as there are agencies using them.  In order to develop a program that will be able to communicate with all of these database programs, Accenture will need the source codes – or at least enough of the codes to be able to gain access – for each database program in use anywhere in America, as well as access to the databases themselves. When it comes to determining who can – and who cannot – enter this country, this is extremely sensitive information, and could legitimately be called the “keys to the kingdom” in terms of our national security, since anyone with access to all of this information would be in a position to know the weak points, gaps, or flaws in the system; a conspiracy theorist might even say one could create such a weak point, gap, or flaw – and use it to their own advantage at a later date.

 

Accenture beat out Computer Systems Corporation and Lockheed Martin to win this contract.  Lockheed was even considered the odds-on favorite to win because of experience in similar areas.  How did Accenture beat out CRC and, in particular, the odds-on favorite, Lockheed?  Could it have anything to do with the fact that the accounting half of Accenture’s previous incarnation, Arthur Andersen Consulting, handled the corporate accounting for Enron, whose recently (finally!) indicted CEO, Kenneth Lay, was the largest single contributor to George Bush’s Gubernatorial and Presidential campaigns?

 

As appalling as all this is, my biggest concern is that, while some of the 30 companies that make up the Accenture Group, including Dell, Raytheon, and San Diego-based Titan (which is currently under investigation for its role in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal) are American companies, the Accenture Group itself is not – it is based in Bermuda.  That’s right – a foreign company beat out two strong American companies for this Homeland Security Department contract.  So all of the source codes for our national security and law enforcement databases, and access to the databases themselves – quite literally the “keys to the kingdom” – as well as the administration of the new technologies and procedures used to screen foreign nationals at every seaport, airport and land border crossing nationwide, will be in the hands of a foreign company with questionable connections in its past.

 

Am I the only one who thinks this may not be such a good idea?

 

© 2004 by David Bleidistel.  All rights reserved.