INS plans to award two more pacts for records management

The Immigration and Naturalization Service this week plans to award two contracts as part of a $170 million project to better manage the agency's millions of records, with the possibility of developing automated workflow and imaging capabilities.

The two awards— one to Ahtna Development Corp., Anchorage, Alaska, and another to Uniband Corp., Belcourt, N.D.— will bring to three the number of contracts awarded for the project. INS awarded a contract in April to Choctaw Management/Services Enterprise of Durant, Okla. The contracts were designated set-asides for American Indian-owned and—operated companies.

The contractors, who will work primarily at the seven INS offices that manage the highest volume of records, will manage tens of millions of records on immigrants that INS maintains in paper and electronic form. The records run the gamut from immigrants' employment eligibility records to documents that detail immigrants' benefits. Although the core of the work will involve data entry, INS officials expect the project eventually will include special software applications for automating the tracking of records and for managing workflow.

Information technology is a large part of the existing contract, which is held by Uniband. Paper records are stored in folders labeled with machine-readable bar codes, which save data-entry time for INS workers creating, accessing and changing electronic files that correspond with the paper files. The current contract was awarded to Uniband more than two years ago and expires next week. Almost $20 million worth of work was conducted under the contract, said Robert Beaty, an INS contracting officer.

The existing contract does not involve specialized IT services, and the new set of contracts initially will be light on specialized IT services. But INS officials plan to centralize paper and electronic records, which may require the contractors to supply special software applications for document imaging or for tracking the flow of records as they are created, processed and updated, INS officials said.

Beaty said the new IT initiatives could change based on congressional actions. For years Congress has considered mandating greater centralization of INS records but so far has not passed legislation requiring INS to do so. "We're trying to give ourselves...flexibility so that we can change as requirements come up," Beaty said.

"This contract is broad enough to handle [any records function]," said Clint Palmer, the contracting officer's technical representative for the INS contract.

Stephen White, deputy managing officer with Choctaw, agreed. "Right now, I'd say that just about anything is a possibility.... The ultimate goal is to centralize the records in one location," he said.

Moreover, the contracts could pave the way toward a greater degree of outsourcing for INS.

"This may be the first step in contracting out an entire function," said Bob Dornan, senior vice president at IT consulting firm Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va. "It depends on how much control the agency feels it needs to have over the group [of contractors]."

Work under the contracts will be handed out on a competitive basis, Beaty said.

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