CSC wins refugee system contract

The State Department this month awarded a $9 million contract to Computer Sciences Corp. to develop a standardized computer system that will result in speeding up the process of moving refugees to the United States.

State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and CSC will develop the globally linked Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS) using a Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based data communications system to more quickly and easily process the admission of refugees to America and other countries.This week State plans to meet with the CSC team to orient it on the department's plans, said Amy Nelson, project manager at State's refugee admission office.

Nelson said this year at least 78,000 refugees are expected to leave their home countries for a new life in the United States. She said the United States expects another 20,000 refugees from war-torn Kosovo.

On average, when there is not a war driving people from their homelands, Nelson said at least 70,000 refugees a year are admitted into the states. The number admitted to the United States is based on a ceiling set by the White House after consultation with the refugee admission office, Nelson said.

Refugees must wait four to eight months to come to the United States because the approval process requires paper shuffling among partnering agencies and countries, Nelson said.

"We fax, e-mail, use the typewriter,'' Nelson said. "The manual process is so time-consuming.''Here is how the manual process works: State pays a nongovernmental organization overseas, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to refer names of individuals for consideration for refugee status, Nelson said. Also, a family member in the United States could sponsor a refugee.

The partnering organizations help screen the refugees, set up camps, and provide food and clothing while refugees complete paperwork. Refugees are interviewed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which can deny or approve them at that point. After the interview, the refugees' names are checked, and they are given medical exams, Nelson said.

The refugees then travel to the United States with documents in hand and are placed with a partnering agency, such as the International Rescue Committee, based in New York, to help them adjust to the United States and to help them find employment, Nelson said.

Most of the process, from the time the refugees are identified to the point of relocation to the United States, is done manually, which makes the exchange a long and tedious exercise, Nelson said. "We're hoping to join the 21st century soon."

Joe Keefe, a CSC director, said WRAPS will cut the processing time for refugees by at least a third.Keefe said WRAPS will enable the partnering organizations that assist State with refugee relocation to move paperwork electronically. WRAPS will provide information to partnering organizations to improve communications and to exchange information quickly, Keefe said.

For example, Nelson said WRAPS will enable the International Organization for Migration, based in Geneva, to receive biographical information electronically to make travel arrangements for refugees to the United States.

Also, Nelson said WRAPS will support State in determining where it needs to send additional resources to help conduct interviews. "The more information you have early, the better you can run the program,'' she said.

Work on the new system should begin this week, Keefe said. A prototype will be deployed in Kenya next year, he said. "It's a challenging technological effort,'' Keefe said. "We plan to have it in 15 locations by the end of 2000 and in operation by 2001.''

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