Critical Read

CIS not so agile with agile

Shutterstock image (by Cybrain): time is money concept.

(Image: Cybrain / Shutterstock)

What: Government Accountability Office report on the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services' Transformation Program

Why: CIS moved to an agile development and acquisition strategy from a traditional waterfall approach to speed up development of its Transformation Program, which will processes millions of applications for persons looking to study, work, visit, or live in the U.S. CIS has been working on updating the paper-based processing system since 2005, hoping to transform it into an account-based system equipped with electronic adjudication and case management tools that will allow applicants to apply and track the progress of their immigration application online. According to GAO, CIS said in 2011 the Transformation Program was to be completed no later than June 2014 at a cost of up to $2.1 billion.

In March 2012, GAO said CIS changed its acquisition strategy for the Transformation Program to more agile approaches, multiple vendors and wider use of open source software. Those efforts, associated with more nimble DevOps management in the commercial world, have been credited with fostering faster, more effective project development for federal projects.

According to GAO's study, DHS's inability to effectively implement agile and open source techniques, among other management issues, contributed to delays in the program's completion for years and helped add a billion dollars to its price tag. The techniques themselves weren't at fault, according to GAO, but DHS's ability to adequately report on and manage them.

In March 2015, GAO reported that DHS acquisition policy doesn't define the differences in the roles of its Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management and the Office of the Chief Information Officer’s Enterprise Business, and various project reporting avenues sometimes complicated communications about the program. GAO said said PARM and Enterprise Business Management Office functions might overlap and that programs report to PARM and the Enterprise Business Management Office through two separate information systems, further complicating the distinction. GAO recommended that DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson direct Undersecretary for Management Russel Deyo to develop written guidance to clarify the roles and responsibilities of PARM and OCIO Enterprise Business Management Office for conducting oversight of major acquisition programs.

Handling of protests has also been a problem. A protest of the program's agile development services contract required DHS and CIS to adjust its schedule, extend an existing solution architect contract and contract for another team to continue development work until the bid protest was resolved. According to GAO, the DHS's Chief of the Office of Transformation Coordination said temporary development teams used while the bid protest was being resolved performed more slowly than what was projected for the permanent development teams, adding to the delays.

Verbatim: “As of March 2015, USCIS ELIS [Electronic Immigration System] functionality deployed in the program’s initial releases is still in operation. Moving forward, USCIS estimates that its Transformation Program will now cost up to $3.1 billion and be fully deployed no later than March 2019. This is an increase of approximately $1 billion and a delay of over 4 years from its initial approved baseline.”

Full report: Read the GAO report here.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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