Panel praises management turn-around at DHS agency

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Following well-publicized woes that crested in 2005, a National Academy of Public Administration panel said a financial action plan published earlier this year for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a major step toward establishing stability and soundness at the bureau.

As long as the Homeland Security Department supplements this plan with the development of a new strategic focus to complement its tactical attention to financial integrity, the panel said, “ICE should be well positioned to lead DHS forward financially.”

That’s a far cry from what was being said about ICE just a year ago. The NAPA panel listed a series of events — loss of staff, leadership change within DHS, an unfamiliar financial system, changing expectations from DHS, and others — that it said merged to create “substantial and adverse financial issues in 2005.”

In a report it published last year, the Government Accountability Office said a major information technology modernization program for ICE had been put at risk because the bureau had done minimal planning and management.

It had also redirected funding and employees for the program to other competing priorities and had not made the necessary investments in program management capabilities, GAO said.

Technology was one of three areas that the NAPA panel identified as critical to ICE’s future, which it said will require some level of long-term strategic guidance.

“ICE has too much transactional activity, information flow, accounting requirements and analysis to manage without the aid of user friendly and effective technology,” the panel said. “ICE will not be able to achieve major financial systems and IT improvements until DHS develops a more explicit IT strategic plan or framework from which to operate.”

The panel recommended that ICE explicitly make technology part of the financial action plan. It also said ICE officials should work with DHS to identify the needs of ICE, the department and its stakeholders and develop alternative approaches to meet ICE’s technology needs if DHS guidelines are not available.

“If adequate IT systems are not available in the mid-term, and certainly long-term, the gains of the past will be lost as the workload will exceed staff’s ability to perform, analyze and manage ICE financial demands,” it said.

The other areas that the panel identified as needing special attention are business processes, which it said are an ever-changing work in progress, and the hiring, training and retention of knowledgeable employees.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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