House bill would halve digital services request at DHS

The administration wants to use a tech team to fast-track better immigration data reporting, but the House is holding the line on funding

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Lawmakers pushed back on an administration request for $10 million to fund a digital services team inside the Department of Homeland Security as part of a $47.6 billion DHS funding bill the House Appropriations Committee approved 32-17 on July 14. Instead, the bill devotes $5 million to the team.

The item is a drop in the bucket of the $264.9 million CIO office budget at the department, but potentially significant because of the work tabbed for the DS inside the department.

The request is part of a larger administration effort to build out digital services through individual appropriations rather than a single-funding mechanism.

On the Senate side, appropriators are looking to the digital services team to "make great progress on the department's immigration data challenges," and are expecting the effort to show results by December 2015. "New digital services team members will be used to address those challenges as a top priority," per the Senate committee report.

One of the tasks of the digital services team would be to fast-track better immigration data reporting.

A May 2015 report from the DHS inspector general sounded alarms about data collection and management at DHS. The report found weaknesses in the collection of data on the use of prosecutorial discretion by DHS components, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Customs and Border Protection. Additionally, the report noted that key data, including the criminal histories of immigration violators in their countries of origin, was often not available to field enforcement personnel.

In its reply to the report, DHS Assistant Secretary Alan D. Bersin noted that the Office of Immigration Statistics inside the Office of Policy has been tasked with improving data collection, governance, and interoperability. The effort includes an assessment of gaps in data collection and reporting across DHS components, developing department-level methods for validating agency data, standardizing data elements, and pushing through IT fixes to improve data collection and reporting. The OIS effort is being executed in cooperation with DHS OCIO, but funded separately.

The House report would require the Office of Immigration Statistics to brief appropriators on plans to improve data collection, including data on prosecutorial discretion that was said to be lacking in the IG report.

The Obama administration objected to the overall funding in the bill, and the persistence of the sequestration regime, but it did not threaten a veto or drill down in its opposition to any IT related items.

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