Justice is slammed again on INS systems

The General Accounting Office, investigating at the behest of House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), has concluded that the Justice Department has failed to properly oversee major IT projects at the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

GAO auditors found that Justice’s process for overseeing IT investments was severely flawed, said Randy Hite, the office’s director for IT architecture and systems.

Noting that Justice has the responsibility to ensure that INS and its other agencies spend their IT dollars effectively, Hite said, “If you or I were going to do that, we would want to know certain information about a project: What I am going to get for what dollar expenditure over what time, and how I am going to measure whether that is accruing or not?”

But, Hite said, Justice “is not measuring the progress being made on these projects. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Hite added that the results of the investigation, in the report Justice Plans to Improve Oversight of Agency Projects, are particularly troubling because of the INS’ poor track record in implementing IT projects and its integral role in homeland security.

“The antidote gets to the underlying cause,” Hite said. “The cause in this case is that actually doing their jobs has not been a priority for them.”

Hite cited the Judiciary Committee’s longstanding concern for the effectiveness of Justice’s IT operations, which has led to several hearings on the matter. Other lawmakers joining Sensenbrenner in requesting the report were ranking minority member John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims George Gekas (R-Pa.) and that subcommittee’s ranking minority member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Ga.)

In asking GAO to conduct the study, the lawmakers cited criticism of Justice IT efforts by the department’s inspector general and the prospect that continued failures in INS systems would frustrate efforts to prevent crime and terrorism by aliens.

The GAO reviewed four INS systems:

  • the Automated I-94 system, which was designed to capture arrival and departure data at some ports of entry but was retired in February because it did not meet mission needs.

  • the Enforcement Case Tracking System, which serves to book persons who are arrested.

  • the Automated Biometric Identification System, which screens aliens on the basis of biometric and other data.

  • the Integrated Card Protection System, which produces three types of identification cards.

  • Justice generally agreed with the results of the report and said it would improve its systems management oversight. Hite said Justice CIO Vance Hitch has pledged to reform IT management at the department.

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