INS info systems criticized

Despite an influx of money in recent years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has failed to make significant progress in improving its management of immigration applications, according to a report from the General Accounting Office.

One of the top reasons cited for INS' problems is the lack of adequate information systems.

"Although INS has experienced substantial growth in its budget and staff, it continues to have difficulty managing its application workload," GAO officials wrote in the report, titled "Immigration Benefits: Several Factors Impede Timeliness of Application Processing." INS' adjudication and naturalization budget, which is composed largely of fees paid by applicants, has nearly quadrupled to nearly $500 million since fiscal 1994. "INS acknowledges, and we agree, that it needs better automation capability and a more streamlined application process to provide improved levels of service," according to the report.

Because of automation problems, INS managers cannot readily determine the size and status of their pending workload, the application processing times, the existence of processing bottlenecks, how to deploy staff based on workload and backlogs, or whether applications are processed in the order in which they are received.

Without such data, it is nearly impossible to accurately assess problems in the application process, GAO officials said.

INS district offices, which will handle about 45 percent of all fiscal 2000 applications, process most applications manually because they do not have an automated case management and tracking system for processing most types of applications, the report stated.

INS has been long criticized for delays in the immigration process and for the service's inability to provide immigrants with timely decisions on their applications for such benefits as naturalization and legal permanent residence.

INS has taken efforts to improve the reliability of its existing automated systems, according to GAO, and it is preparing a business plan and an information technology strategy to guide its process re-engineering and IT improvement efforts.

"We believe these efforts are steps in the right direction. Many of them, however, are still in the planning stages, so it is too early to tell whether and to what extent they will resolve INS' application workload problems," GAO officials said.

In a one-page letter to GAO, Michael Pearson, INS' executive associate commissioner for field operations, said that INS officials agree with the report.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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