Sec. Chertoff and Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice just finished their speech on “Joint Vision: Secure Borders and Open Doors in the Information Age.” Some quick highlights:
The speech had three key topics: (1) using new information technology to “renew America’s welcome”, (2) the creation of travel documents for the 21st century, and (3) conducting smarter screening in all places where travelers are encountered.
Sec. Rice covered the first topic, and highlighted the investments that the State Department has made in the consular process and the declines in wait times for visa processing in the last two years. But she noted the need to continue to improve the process, and announced the following new activities:
- Pilot projects at Washington Dulles and Houston airports to improve and clarify the entry process for foreign visitors upon arrival, using tools such as new video messages and personal greeters.
- Extension of entry windows for foreign students arriving on visas, allowing students to apply 120 days (instead of 90) for the visas, and arrive 45 days (instead of 30) before the start of classes.
- The use of video conferencing technology in some instances to make visa interviews for foreigners less onerous.
- The creation of a new joint DHS-State federal advisory board with representatives from tourism and travel, academia, and business to help the government identify best practices for travel policies.
Sec. Chertoff then spoke on the second and third topics: secure travel documents and screening.
On the secure travel document issue, he commented that DHS will:
- Introduce a new, cheap and secure travel card by the end of 2006. He called the system for this card the “People Access Security Serviceâ€ or PASS.
- Attempt to unify various trusted traveler credentialing systems into a single unified system, to enable border officials to concentrate their resources better on those who might pose a threat.
On the topic of screening systems, Chertoff noted that:
- DHS and State will strive to streamline the visa process, with the long-term objective of developing a paperless visa process.
- DHS will create a new government-wide mechanism for public redress of mistakes on government watchlists such as the “no-fly list” by the end of this year.
Overall, an impressive strategy and a daunting list of self-imposed deadlines for DHS and State to meet.
Update 2 (1/17): After analyzing the announcement more closely, and reading the press accounts that included information from the off-the-record Q&A after the event, I feel even more strongly that this is a very solid and positive strategy for DHS and State to pursue. But some elements of this strategy (e.g. the “Global Enrollment Network” and paperless visa processing) are very ambitious, and they could fall prey to various obstacles and pitfalls, such as privacy issues, incompatible technology, and data security, if not executed with extreme care and precision.