Auditors hit HUD, immigration services

USCIS and HUD were scolded for gaps in IT management, but USCIS hit back.

In unrelated investigations, federal auditors scolded U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Housing and Urban Development Department for weaknesses in managing their information technology investments. USCIS did not take the criticism lying down.

Homeland Security Department Inspector General Richard Skinner reported July 30 that USCIS is making headway in its four-year-old program to transform the paperwork-centered agency into a modern, IT-based operation, although several problems linger.

Skinner and a USCIS official disagreed on how much progress the agency has made. In USCIS’ response to the audit, Acting Deputy Director Michael Aytes argued that the IG’s report did not sufficiently acknowledge progress in the program. Aytes said the agency has already implemented two of the IG's five recommendations, an assertion the IG said is not correct.

The disagreement is an example of the types of disputes that commonly arise over federal audits, said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at FedSources.

Auditors have the benefit of hindsight, while IT managers are struggling with the “unknown unknowns,” Bjorklund said. “It is hard for auditors to see everything that has gone on. There are so many aspects, many of which are out of the manager’s control.”

Bjorklund said he was not familiar with the details of the USCIS audit. However, he cautioned that it might be risky for program managers to openly dispute an audit. “Ordinarily, it is not prudent to be overly defensive,” Bjorklund said. “If an auditor feels attacked, they may go after the agency time and time again. It should not happen, but it does.”

Ensuring that USCIS is on the right track in its IT transformation is an important goal, said Jena McNeill, a homeland security analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “We need [the agency] to have the right information technology to do legal immigration better,” she said. “Reforms at USCIS should be a major element in any immigration reform agenda.”

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office took HUD to task for continued gaps in its implementation of controls over its IT systems.

The controls are crucial, and each one must be fully established, GAO auditors wrote in a July 31 report. Until that happens, “the performance of HUD’s existing IT environment, as well as its efforts to modernize this environment, will be at risk.”

HUD officials generally agreed with the findings and blamed the shortcomings on high turnover among IT managers and limited funds.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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