Information Technology:

Near-Term Effort to Automate Paper-Based Immigration Files Needs Planning Improvements

GAO-06-375: Published: Mar 31, 2006. Publicly Released: May 1, 2006.

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The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) relies on about 55 million paper-based files to adjudicate applications for immigration status and other benefits. Ensuring the currency and availability of these manual files, referred to as alien files, or A-Files, is a major challenge. To address this challenge, USCIS has initiated efforts, both long and near term, to automate the A-Files. The long-term effort is now being re-examined within the context of a larger USCIS organizational transformation initiative. In the near term, USCIS has begun a digitization program, which it estimates will cost about $190 million over an 8-year period to electronically scan existing paper files and store and share the scanned images. GAO was asked to determine whether USCIS was effectively managing its A-Files automation efforts.

USCIS's effectiveness in managing its long-term effort for automating the A-Files cannot yet be determined because the scope, content, and approach for moving from paper-based to paperless A-Files has yet to be defined. Nevertheless, GAO believes that USCIS's recent decision to re-examine prior agency plans for a strategic A-Files automation solution within the context of an agencywide transformation strategy appropriately recognizes the integral support role that information technology plays in organizational and business transformation. GAO also believes that the success of USCIS's organizational transformation depends on other key supporting practices, such as having a comprehensive and integrated transformation plan (goals and schedules) and results-oriented performance measures. With respect to USCIS's near-term A-Files automation effort, known as the Integrated Digitization Document Management Program (IDDMP), effective planning is not occurring. In particular, USCIS has not developed a plan governing how it will manage this program and its contractors, and it has not developed an evaluation plan for its ongoing digitization concept of operations pilot test, even though it has either awarded or plans to award contracts totaling about $20 million for this pilot. In addition, USCIS officials told us they do not yet know which A-Files immigration forms will be scanned. Without a defined scope and adequate planning, this program is at risk of falling short of expectations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agreed with the recommendation and has taken several actions consistent with the recommendation. Specifically, it has (1) established a Transformation Program Office (TPO) that reports directly to the USCIS Deputy Director and oversees and manages the transformation, and a Transformation Leadership Team, which is the primary decision-making body for the program and consists of senior officials from various offices within USCIS; (2) established a mission, vision, and strategic goals in its Strategic Plan to guide the transformation, including a set of priorities (e.g., national security, customer service, and operational efficiency) that are reflected in its strategic goals; (3) identified 10 principles to guide internal decision making throughout the course of its transformation, and defined a set of core values to guide the transformation and help build a new agencywide culture; (4) established and shared its implementation goals and a transformation timeline (with incremental milestones) with senior management and obtained senior management approval; (5) established a centralized management structure to oversee all transformation activities (e.g., involved stakeholders through its Federal Stakeholder Advisory Board to advise USCIS on transformation activities); (6) included transformation-related expectations in the performance plans for TPO officials and selected senior agency executives; (6) established a Change Management Division (CMD) within TPO, which has developed an overall Transformation Communication Plan and is responsible for managing communication with stakeholders; (7) involved employees in the transformation by, for example, obtaining employee ideas through focus groups and interviews and engaging employees to serve as project team members, subject matter experts, and pilot testers; and (8) conducted benchmarking and best practice reviews across comparable commercial and governmental organizations. In addition, USCIS has developed a version of an enterprise architecture that describes target performance measures for business segments, a business reference model that identifies enterprise segments, lines of business within each segment, and business functions for each line of business, and a service reference model. Furthermore the architecture describes USCIS current environment and some elements of a transition strategy for moving from the current to the target environment. In addition, it has performed a redundancy and gap analysis to identify systems with overlapping capabilities. USCIS plans to build on this initial version of its architecture to further define its target business architecture by decomposing target business functions into workflows and activities, enhancing linkages between business activities and performance measures, validating the logical data model, identifying departmental security services to leverage, and developing architecture segments (e.g., the Citizenship segment).

    Recommendation: To better ensure the success of USCIS's long-term transformation efforts, to include A-Files automation, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to ensure that the key elements to successful organizational and business transformation cited in this report are employed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USCIS has developed a Digitization Pilot Project Management Plan, which includes, among other things, the scope of program activities, stakeholders, and roles and responsibilities of key members that oversee the schedule and deliverables of the Integrated Digitization Document Management Program (IDDMP). Also, USCIS has developed an IDDMP Pilot Evaluation Plan that includes specific evaluation criteria for records digitization, user satisfaction, data collection and reporting methods, evaluation schedule for major performance measurement activities, and overall objectives. USCIS has also taken some initial steps to develop a reliable estimate of funding requirements, which are consistent with our recommendation and, if implemented, should satisfy the intent of our recommendation. For example, USCIS plans to use input from various pilot evaluation activities, such as collecting data on file size and storage capacity to estimate future levels of effort, technical, and cost requirements; use the IDDMP cost variance measure to assist in regularly monitoring the status of development and operational costs; and conduct a thorough analysis of funding estimates through a business case analysis.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the success of USCIS's long-term transformation efforts, to include A-Files automation, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to ensure that both a program management plan and a pilot evaluation plan are expeditiously developed and approved for IDDMP, along with a reliable estimate of funding requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services


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