GAO: Better software needed to fight visa malfeasance

Border Security: More Emphasis on State’s Consular Safeguards Could Mitigate Visa Malfeasance Risks

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The State Department must develop better software to ensure its consular officials don’t fraudulently issue visas, the Government Accountability Office concluded today in a new report.

State officials said they are already moving to comply with the GAO recommendations.

State has improved its safeguards against visa malfeasance but still is not fully and consistently implementing its internal controls, the report states.

“State has not developed software to sort and analyze abnormalities in visa issuances that could indicate potential malfeasance but is in the process of doing so,” Jess Ford, director of GAO’s International Affairs and Trade Division, wrote in the report. “This stronger oversight should help strengthen compliance with internal controls.”

State should provide its Vulnerability Assessment Unit (VAU) with software that automatically sorts consular data to locate and analyze abnormalities in visa-issuance statistics from each post, the report states.

Co-staffed by the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs and Bureau of Diplomatic Security, its security wing, the VAU analyzes consular data from the department’s Consular Consolidated Database.

The report found that the VAU “does not have adequate tools to assist their review of the visa process to identify fraud trends.” The Consular Consolidated Database does not allow automated data searches or alerts to allow the VAU to take early action rather than reacting, it states.

The department should also improve the investigative case-tracking systems that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security uses to find trends and vulnerabilities in the visa process, the report states.

State agreed with GAO’s recommendations and is already taking steps to improve its software, said Sid Kaplan, the department’s acting assistant secretary and chief financial officer.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs is developing a comprehensive, uniform and fully automated system to track sensitive items such as blank visas, Kaplan said in a written statement. The system will enable the bureau to electronically monitor compliance from its Washington, D.C., headquarters, he said.

The VAU is expected to test a program soon that will inform employees of danger signs at a post, Kaplan said. The program will automatically gather information, flag anomalies and stop banned behavior.

The department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security found 28 instances of visa malfeasance involving U.S. employees between 2001 and 2004, the report states. Of those, the Justice Department prosecuted 10 U.S. employees.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security has a test version of a new-and-improved fraud-tracking database and expects to launch the first official version in early 2006, Kaplan said.

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