GAO: INS not following procedures

In a report released last month the General Accounting Office charged that the Immigration and Naturalization Service failed to follow proper analytical procedures for developing a new financial management system.

"INS selected a new financial management system without focusing first on conducting an analysis of its business processes - a practice that GAO guidelines for acquiring information technology endorsed and Congress required in legislation " according to the report authored by Norman Rabkin the office's director for administration of justice issues.

INS will begin deploying the new system in October and will continue to install it in modules throughout fiscal 1998 and possibly part of fiscal 1999. The system will cost close to $29 million over five years said Judy Harrison deputy assistant commissioner for financial management at INS. She said $14 million of the total will pay for an interagency agreement in which INS will buy services from the departments of Treasury and Commerce.

A business-process analysis of financial management functions will take place alongside deployment of the new financial management system said Joe O'Leska the assistant commissioner for financial management at INS.

Getting its financial shop in order is particularly important for INS according to the GAO report which was submitted to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner. "How well INS manages its budgetary and personnel resources has a direct impact on its ability to efficiently and effectively carry out its mission " the GAO report noted.

Meissner disagreed with parts of the report. "The most serious omission in the GAO report is the failure to recognize INS' urgent immediate need for a replacement financial accounting system " she wrote in response. "The current accounting system is over 18 years old and does not have the functionality necessary to manage and account for resources. By recommending delay in the selection and implementation of a replacement financial management system GAO is effectively advocating that INS continue to expend funds and resources that do not address the Year 2000 problem " in which computers recognize the year 2000 as the year 1900 causing computational errors.

Had INS finished a full analysis of its business processes before deciding on a new financial management system INS officials argued it might have been October 1998 before INS began a procurement and 1999 before the system would be operational putting the federal agency dangerously close to the Year 2000 threshold.

Cleaning up the financial management system at INS may not be enough to bring a broader management nirvana to INS according to observers of the agency.

"Our take is that [INS] is not managed at all " said K.C. McAlpin deputy director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "It's just in a state of chronic chaos."

McAlpin said INS has a reputation as one of the worst-managed agencies in the federal government. And more pressure has been applied to the agency during the past three or four years as congressional and public interest in illegal immigration has increased said INS spokesman Greg Gagne.Illegal immigrants in the United States are estimated to be about 5 million and growing by nearly 300 000 a year McAlpin said. "They're stuck in using technology that's about 30 years old " he said.

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