IG, Immigration disagree on transformation steps

Effort is 4 years along

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is making progress in its four-year-old transformation program to remake the paperwork-centered agency into a modern information technology environment, although a few problems continue to hamper its efforts, according to a report from Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner.

Skinner and a USCIS official disagreed on just how much progress the agency has made. In the agency response to the audit, USCIS Acting Deputy Director Michael Aytes said the agency has already implemented two of the IG's five recommendations, an assertion the IG said is not correct.

The USCIS began the IT transformation project in 2005 after struggling with a backlog of 1.5 million cases and thousands of missing or poorly-organized paper files. For a year, the agency made little headway on the program, but since 2006 it has been making progress, the IG reported. It has established a structure to manage the IT transformation initiative, adopted an acquisition and funding strategy and an approach for deployment of new capabilities, and begun pilot testing, according to the 59-page audit released on July 30.

The Transformation Program Office is now headed by a Senior Executive Service Coordinator and staffing has increased to fill 36 of the 40 authorized positions. An Integrated Product Team approach has been initiated.

Four pilot projects have been held to demonstrate concepts for the transformation: Integrated Digitization and Document Management Program (Digitization), Biometric Storage System, Enumeration, and the Secure Information Management Service.

These efforts have increased awareness of what is needed to implement each capability, the inspector general wrote.

But some problems persist, the inspector general concluded. “Pilot success has been restricted by ineffective planning and limited implementation reviews. Business process reengineering efforts needed to support the transformation are incomplete, and stakeholder participation levels have fluctuated, resulting in inconsistent business and IT involvement,” he wrote.

The inspector general’s audit also examined USCIS’ overall IT management. It found improved IT governance and a strengthened IT management structure, but the agency’s Chief Information Officer has been hampered by insufficient staffing and inadequate budget authority, the report said.

The inspector general made five recommendations for USCIS:

  • Communicate better with stakeholders and include stakeholders in defining requirements;
  • Assess pilot program results;
  • Develop an IT staffing plan;
  • Communicate IT development guidelines;
  • Provide the CIO budget and investment authority for all USCIS IT initiatives.

Aytes agreed with the inspector general that the agency faces challenges in modernizing its IT, but argued that the inspector general did not sufficiently acknowledge progress in the program. The USCIS has already implemented the first two recommendations have already been implemented, Aytes wrote in the agency response. The inspector general disagreed and said the first two recommendations had not been fully carried out.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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