Homeland Security:

Management Challenges Remain in Transforming Immigration Programs

GAO-05-81: Published: Oct 14, 2004. Publicly Released: Oct 14, 2004.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assumed responsibility for the immigration enforcement and services programs of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 2003. The three DHS bureaus with primary responsibility for immigration functions are U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This transfer creates a great opportunity for DHS to address long-standing management and operational problems within INS. The Homeland Security Act requires GAO to review the transfer of immigration functions to DHS. In response, this report assesses the status of (1) communication and coordination of roles and responsibilities, (2) integration of immigration and customs investigators in ICE, and (3) administrative services and systems in CBP, CIS, and ICE.

Most of the field officials with whom GAO spoke generally characterized communication and coordination with other DHS immigration programs in their geographic area as good or excellent. Other officials noted, that in some areas related to investigative techniques and other operations, unresolved issues regarding the roles and responsibilities of CBP, CIS, and ICE give rise to disagreements and confusion, with the potential for serious consequences. According to headquarters and field officials, some guidance has been made available to the field, and there are plans to provide more. Most ICE field officials GAO contacted said they have taken initial steps toward integrating the former immigration and customs investigators, such as establishing cross-training and pay parity. Most of these officials said, however, that additional important steps remained to be completed to fully integrate investigators. They reported that the lack of uniform policies and procedures for some ICE operations has caused confusion and hindered the creation of a new integrated culture. Headquarters officials said they were responding to these challenges. Officials in CBP, CIS, and ICE expressed confusion about a new shared services system for mission support when interviewed 3 to 4 months after the system was instituted. They also expressed frustration with problems they have encountered with travel, budget, and payroll systems, which are not a part of the shared services system. Additionally, the realignment of staff for shared services, along with other events, has resulted in some mission staff being assigned administrative work as a collateral duty, which may affect mission productivity. Key practices used by other public and private organizations that have undergone successful mergers and transformations may be helpful to DHS in addressing the challenges raised in this report and in transforming immigration enforcement and services. These key practices include establishing communication strategies to create shared expectations and involving employees to gain ownership for changes.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To assist DHS in successfully transforming its immigration related programs and address the challenges discussed in this report, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the heads of CBP, CIS, and ICE, as appropriate, in consultation with the Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, to create a mechanism for periodically obtaining employee feedback on their ideas and concerns and consider this feedback in its future transformation and communications strategies, including assessing the challenges reported to us.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: For the reasons cited below, we are closing as not implemented the recommendation that the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) immigration components, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), create a mechanism for periodically obtaining feedback on employees' ideas and concerns and consider this feedback in DHS's future transformation and communications strategies. With respect to USCIS, the agency reported a number of activities indicating communications with field office staff and obtaining feedback from them. However, not all of the activities addressed our recommendation and, in some cases, these activities preceded the issuance of our report. For example, USCIS reported launching Project Ingenuity, an effort in which the agency's leadership holds periodic meetings with field staff, obtains their suggestions on a range of issues, and informs staff of resulting initiatives; however, the initiative was launched in May 2004, and our report was issued in October 2004. USCIS also reported sending daily e-mail broadcasts to USCIS staff. This may result in employee feedback, but is not an example of it. USCIS also reported obtaining feedback on employee ideas and concerns during visits to field offices by members of USCIS' Internal Communication Division. The Division reviews suggestions from field employees and implements suggestions through a daily internal e-newsletter. Such efforts are likely useful and constructive ways to promote communications, but they do not appear to focus on the primary intent of our recommendation. CBP (1) conducted several surveys to measure employees' attitudes and perceptions regarding internal communications. Such surveys may help CBP develop communication strategies. However, they do not address the component of our recommendation dealing with obtaining employees' ideas and concerns that could be considered in future transformation strategies;(2) collected data from members of the public about a number of issues related to the public's use of CBP's web site. We do not consider this to be directly pertinent to the intent of our recommendation; and (3) established a Human Capital Advisory Council to serve as a central point of contact to engage all senior leadership; and to provide advice on initiatives in CBP's business plan, assist in coordinating the planned actions, and propose additional strategies and actions. Collectively, we believe that these actions do not indicate that the agency fully implemented the recommendation. ICE recently reported developing several programs that solicited ideas, suggestions, and feedback from employees. For example, it has conducted several Town Hall meetings and issued and analyzed the Federal Employee Survey and Human Capital Survey annually. We note that the survey to which ICE refers is a survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and, according to OPM's web site, "is a tool that measures employees' perceptions of whether, and to what extent, conditions characterizing successful organizations are present in their agencies." We do not believe that this OPM survey directly addresses our recommendation that ICE obtain the ideas and concerns of their employees and consider these in future transformation and communications strategies. ICE also reported recently implementing a Web-based social collaboration community site forum that allows employees to offer suggestions and voice ideas. ICE also provided information on individual ICE programs, such as the Office of Investigations, in which employees provide one-on-one feedback to their unit chief and receive constructive feedback in return.

    Recommendation: To assist DHS in successfully transforming its immigration related programs and address the challenges discussed in this report, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the heads of CBP, CIS, and ICE, as appropriate, in consultation with the Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, to provide additional specific guidance to field managers and staff that establishes uniform policies and procedures on all cross-cutting integration issues that affect operational effectiveness, including specific descriptions of the roles and responsibilities of each bureau and its staff in investigative techniques such as benefit fraud investigations, parole decisions, and controlled deliveries.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2005, we reviewed and reported on management challenges that remained after the functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service were transformed into the Department of Homeland Security's three immigration components, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). We reported, among other things, that field managers in the three components were confused about their respective roles and responsibilities on a number of cross-cutting issues that affected their operational effectiveness. Officials in ICE, CBP, and USCIS provided information demonstrating that in 2004 and 2007, they had taken action on this issue. Specifically, they provided memoranda of understanding between ICE and CBP that address the respective roles and responsibilities of staff in these offices on issues such as interdiction and investigation, controlled deliveries, sharing of intelligence and information; asset forfeiture; interior enforcement; and occupational orientation on operational priorities. In addition, we reviewed a 2006 memorandum of agreement between USCIS and ICE that addressed how the agencies would work together to combat benefit fraud. Finally, USCIS officials told us in August 2008 that USCIS and ICE were in the final stages of reviewing a new agreement that would further clarify which types of cases would be handled by USCIS versus ICE.

    Recommendation: To assist DHS in successfully transforming its immigration related programs and address the challenges discussed in this report, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the heads of CBP, CIS, and ICE, as appropriate, in consultation with the Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, to provide additional detailed written guidance to field managers and staff on the processes and procedures to follow for the provision of shared administrative services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security did not provide GAO with any detailed written guidance on shared service processes and procedures that it may have provided to field offices since our report was issued. As a result, this recommendation is closed as not implemented.

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