GAO lists SEVIS monitoring gaps

Homeland Security: Performance of Information System to Monitor Foreign Students and Exchange Visitors Has Improved, But Issues Remain

Homeland Security Department officials have improved a system to track foreign students, but users still report problems such as slow help-desk response and incomplete data, according to a General Accounting Office report released today.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), long plagued with technical glitches, now meets certain system requirements, the report said. However, some requirements are not being monitored, so officials can't be sure all problems are being addressed, auditors said.

"Without formally monitoring and documenting key system performance requirements, DHS cannot adequately assure itself that potential system problems are identified and addressed early before they have a chance to become larger problems that could affect the DHS mission objectives supported by SEVIS," the report states.

SEVIS is part of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program.

Monitoring deficiencies notwithstanding, informal feedback and the high volume of daily use of the system show SEVIS has been improved and is serving its purpose, GAO officials said. DHS officials took action to make these improvements and address specific errors in the system. For example, officials installed new software to allow users to download data and customize reports. Officials increased help-desk staffing and training to alleviate slow response times and inconsistent answers to technical and policy questions, the report states.

DHS officials plan to collect a fee from students in SEVIS starting this year, but some educational representatives are concerned that two of the three proposed payment options for the fee are not available to all students, the report states. This could cause further delays in the system. DHS officials have acknowledged the payment options may present a burden to foreign students, but they don't plan to change the system, GAO officials said. DHS officials are waiting to hear if the final rule on the proposed fees is approved.

"Resolutions of such differences in perspective is precisely what the rulemaking process is intended to accomplish," GAO officials said. "Therefore, it is important that the outcome of this process be implemented quickly."

The report offered several recommendations to further strengthen SEVIS:

* Assess the current performance requirements to make sure they are still relevant and being formally measured.

* Monitor key performance measurements that are not being formally measured.

* Assess educational help-desk concerns and take action to address the concerns.

* Take steps to quickly implement the results of the rulemaking process.

DHS officials agreed with most of GAO's findings, but disagreed that SEVIS was not monitoring all system performance requirements, GAO officials said. DHS officials said GAO officials did not assess all the program data, and they are resubmitting it to clarify, the report states.

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