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The Homeland Security Department's Visa Waiver Program Office--the office that oversees the reciprocal program the United States has with 37 countries to permit visa-free travel--should be moved for a fourth time since 2004 within the departmental organizational structure, auditors say.

In a report (.pdf) dated Nov. 2, the departmental office of inspector general notes that the program office was established within DHS in 2004 as part of the Border and Transportation Security Directorate.

In 2005, it moved to the Office of Policy Development, within the DHS Office of Policy. In 2007, it was renamed.

In 2011, DHS eliminated the Office of Policy Development. Since then, the office has had "an unofficial dual-reporting relationship" with the Office of International Affairs and the Office of Policy.

Auditors say the office should be permanently moved into the Office of International Affairs, where it would have the "support and management structure to accomplish its mission more effectively."

A large part of that mission is producing reports, summaries of which are sent to Congress. But, as of July 11, 11 of 36 country reports then required (the 37th visa-waiver country, Taiwan, wasn't added until Oct. 2) "exceeded the congressionally mandated 2-year reporting cycle," auditors say.

"We learned that even though the on-site reviews are conducted, some summary reports are not prepared and submitted to Congress within required timeframes," auditors add.

The office has, however, "established evaluation criteria and procedures for determining a country's initial eligibility and continuing compliance with VWP requirements."

In response to auditors' recommendation that the program office be affixed again anew within the DHS organizational structure, David Heyman, assistant secretary for policy, told auditors that "the day-to-day operations" of the program office will be under the purview of the Office of International Affairs, but the Office of Policy "will continue to oversee and manage the policy issues."

Auditors say they consider the recommendation as resolved.

For more:
- download the report, OIG-13-07 (.pdf)

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