IT, biometrics key to CIS strategy through 2015

USCIS Strategic Plan: Securing America's Promise

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Revamping IT infrastructure is a top priority in a 10-year plan that the Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency released today.

The agency, which handles many of the non-enforcement functions of the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, needs to modernize equipment and business practices, the plan states.

Building on existing IT resources, agency officials want to create a scalable and flexible system that maximizes productivity, security and responsiveness.

“Our goal is to transform our current paper-based data systems into a modern, world-class digital processing resource that will enhance customer service, better prevent future backlogs, improve USCIS efficiency with expanded electronic filing and strengthen national security,” the plan states.

The 24-page blueprint sets out five broad goals and identifies 18 specific objectives, several of which point to the use of technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

For example, the strategic plan states that deploying technology such as a new case management system and electronic filing would enable customers to file and track an application, submit supporting documents, and make appointments for interviews or for fingerprints.

The plan does not, however, include a timeline for the deployment of any of the proposed measures or estimates of how much they will cost.

A top priority is reducing a backlog of immigration applications awaiting decision, the plan states. By the end of fiscal 2006, USCIS officials finish processing all pending applications and shorten the average decision time for future applications to six months or less.

A new case management system would create online processes for case referrals and comprehensive data sets for each applicant, changes that would eliminate repeated requests for the same information, the plan said.

“We will create paperless adjudications and leverage electronic data exchange to reduce the physical transfer of paper files and evidence,” the document states.

“USCIS will make digitized information available through secure connections for the purpose of paperless adjudication, identity verification, customer service, case management and management report generation.”

The improved case processing system would allot work to available personnel anywhere in the country, the report states. Such a system would help USCIS meet fluctuating regional demands for services. It would also make use of workload-forecasting tools to determine how many full-time, part-time, term and contract employees it needs at any one time, it said.

USCIS would use biometrics to fight identity fraud and perform automated, tracked background checks on all immigrants who apply for benefits, the plan stated. The agency plans to build a biometric credentialing facility that would collect and store information from background checks of DHS employees and contractors.

Under the new plan, USCIS would develop a national fraud database and software to prevent and react to fraud. The agency also plans to use automated data mining and pattern recognition of data to flag potential fraud cases earlier in the decision-making process.

The agency will focus on information sharing with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, both inside and outside DHS. USCIS will provide real-time data to the Open Source Information Network, an intranet that the intelligence community uses to share sensitive but unclassified data, the plan states.

The system would have real-time electronic access to law enforcement and national security databases in DHS, the State Department, the FBI, and DHS’ U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, which screens foreign nationals entering and exiting the country.

USCIS would ensure that its own human resources management system and performance-appraisal procedures will mesh with the MaxHR personnel system for all of DHS, according to the plan.

The agency would blend online and traditional training to provide more relevant, real-time training to employees, the plan states. USCIS would also use use IT to improve the agency’s knowledge management practices.

To make sure that the agency can survive a natural disaster or terrorist attack, USCIS would develop a continuity plan to guarantee the continuation of essential services.

Dibya Sarkar contributed to this article.


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