Justice report scolds INS over automation programs

Immigration and Naturalization Service officials have not adequately managed programs for automating the agency's business processes, according to a blunt report from the Justice Department's inspector general.

The report, released earlier this month, criticizes INS for failing to manage its major automation programs despite spending close to $800 million over three years - fiscal 1995, 1996 and 1997.

"The INS now expects to spend about $2.8 billion on its automation programs [through fiscal 2001 and beyond].... However, the ultimate cost for INS automation projects is uncertain because data relating to actual costs incurred are unreliable and projected cost estimates are unsupported," the report stated.

Other problems pointed out by the IG's report include:

* A lack of contingency plans for operating systems tied to INS' "mission-essential" programs.

* A lack of success in "procuring independent audits" for contract costs associated with the agency's flagship IT umbrella contract, the Information Technology Partnership, which is being replaced by INS' $1.2 billion Service Technology Alliance Resources program.

* A lack of safeguards to "ensure the accuracy of existing data that will be used by systems currently being developed or re-engineered."

To remedy the problems, the report recommends numerous steps, including preparing annual project cost estimates against which actual project costs can be monitored and controlled; ensuring that monthly progress reviews provide "clear, timely and complete" reporting for all INS automation programs; and establishing comprehensive performance measures for all projects, using those measures to assess the status of projects.

In a prepared response, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner said the agency has "put in place new investment management and budget processes for information technology that have already helped address many of the issues raised in the Office of Inspector General report."

Meissner wrote that the key to reforming the way INS spends money on IT is the agency's IT Investment Review Board, which "is now responsible for setting servicewide priorities and IT budgets," Meissner wrote in a memo to Guy Zimmerman, assistant IG for audit at DOJ.

Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a lobbying group that supports reforming U.S. immigration laws, said the agency is failing to do basic tasks, such as border enforcement.

Mehlman said effective use of agency databases could have helped INS officials apprehend Angel Maturino Resendez, also known as Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, who had been in INS custody last month. Maturino Resendez is the suspect in a series of killings along railways in three states.

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