Immigration IT modernization efforts face critical challenges

OIG Report

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Although the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has made progress in its information technology modernization efforts, it still has major challenges to overcome, particularly in light of pending immigration reform, according to the Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Inspector General.

A September 2005 OIG report exposed inefficiencies in USCIS’ IT environment. In particular, the agency’s processes were still largely manual and paper-based. As a result, shipping, storing and tracking immigration files took too much time and used too many resources.

Immigration adjudicators also used multiple and nonintegrated IT systems to perform their jobs, the OIG found, which reduced productivity and data integrity. IT software and hardware were also not configured well enough to meet users’ needs.

At the time, the OIG recommended that USCIS develop a complete IT modernization strategy with well-defined goals and timelines. It also said the agency should apply more technology to reduce a significant backlog of immigration cases.

In its most recent review, the OIG said USCIS has taken steps to address those recommendations but now faces large-scale immigration reform that could “dramatically increase the number of applications for immigration benefits, also requiring improved biometrics management, and new systems to track guest workers and their employment eligibility.”

IT modernization will be vital to meeting those challenges, the OIG said. USCIS must finalize its approach to business transformation and begin implementing it. At the same time, it must improve strategic planning at the CIO’s office to help in managing IT resources.

However, there are complications. Although the agency has completed the first phase of an IT staffing integration effort, remaining phases are on hold until USCIS addresses organizational problems that are hindering day-to-day IT operations.

And although the agency has made significant progress in IT infrastructure upgrades, the OIG said, plans to complete remaining sites are on hold while waiting for funding approval.

Overall, the OIG said, USCIS “remains entrenched in a cycle of continual planning, with limited progress toward achieving its long-term transformation goals.”

Until USCIS addresses the issues detailed in the report, the OIG said, the agency will not be in a position to effectively manage existing workloads or handle the increase that could come with immigration reform legislation.

About the Author

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

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