A next-generation biometric collection and matching system originally planned to begin operating in 2018 and be fully implemented in 2021 is currently expected to begin deployment this December, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in a new report.

Increment 1 of the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) program, which is the portion of next-generation effort necessary for initial operating capability (IOC), includes the functionality of the legacy IDENT biometric identity management system and the core infrastructure for the new system, GAO says in a report released on June 8.

The report says that as of February, development of seven of eight planned releases for Increment 1 have been completed and the final release was expected to be ready in May.

Work on third and fourth increments of HART haven’t begun but are expected to be implemented by 2024, says the report, DHS Needs to Fully Implement Key Practices in Acquiring Biometric Identity Management System (GAO-21-386). The current program cost estimate is $4.3 billion, GAO says.

The IDENT system has been operational since 1994. The system stores and processes biometric data, primarily fingerprints, and links it to biographic information so that DHS agencies can determine admissibility into the U.S., eligibility for immigration benefits and helping to ferret out criminals and terrorists. IDENT stores more than 268 million distinct identities and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic processed nearly 350,000 transactions daily.

However, the legacy system is limited by capacity constraints, has limited multi-modal biometric capabilities, lags new accuracy requirements and the need for improved performance.

GAO says the delays in deploying HART are important given the “significant shortcomings” that DHS has identified with IDENT. The report says that the program, which is managed by the Office of Biometric Identity Management, is expected to issue a revised schedule and cost estimate in September.

The report points out that risk to the HART program has been heightened by “mixed results in implementing IT acquisitions best practices,” which result in further schedule delays and cost overruns.

Peraton, through its recent acquisition of Northrop Grumman’s [NOC] information technology services business, is the prime contractor for HART.

Work on the second increment of HART begin in February. The plan for Increment 2 is to add multiple biometric matching capabilities, increase matching accuracy, and possibly add data storage.