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The executive branch is supposed to report annually to Congress on how many people have overstayed their visas but has failed to do so for the past two decades, saying the information isn’t reliable enough.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano told the Senate this year that her department would begin to report in December, but the GAO said Homeland Security officials aren’t sure what methodology they will use.

The department has repeatedly pushed back its deadlines for setting up an exit system at airports, telling GAO investigators this year that it will finalize plans in the near future. But GAO said the department is already behind its own schedule.

“For example, DHS had planned to begin scenario-based testing for biometric air exit options in August 2013; however, according to DHS officials, the department now plans to begin such testing in early 2014,” the auditors said.

The total of 1 million potential overstays in the country is an improvement from two years ago, when the GAO found Homeland Security had lost track of 1.6 million people.

Homeland Security went back and looked at those names and found that more than half had either actually left the country unbeknownst to the government, or had gained legal status that allowed them to remain in the U.S.

Of the others, the department decided most were deemed not to be security risks and so there was no need to track them down. But 1,901 of them were deemed significant national security or public safety threats, and 266 of those were still unaccounted for as of March.

In its official response to the GAO report, the Homeland Security Department said it is creating a working group to try to improve its data, and pointed to its success in reducing the backlog of overstay cases from 1.6 million to 1 million.

“DHS remains committed to strengthening and building upon existing capabilities to better identify and report on potential overstays,” said Jim H. Crumpacker, the department’s liaison to GAO.