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Highlights

The legal staff of key Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components--Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)--perform important immigration enforcement, inspection, and service functions. This report addresses the actions ICE, USCIS, and CBP legal offices are taking to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staffing shortfalls. To conduct its work, GAO interviewed component senior legal office officials in headquarters and regional offices and reviewed available documentation on staffing.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to ICE's Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to document an implementation plan for measuring progress in making enhancements to the General Counsel Electronic Management System and to report on the results of efforts to enhance the system.
Closed - Implemented
Prior to sending our draft report to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for comment, we reviewed documents related to planned enhancements the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office (ICE) of the Principal Legal Advisor had underway related to its General Counsel Electronic Management System (GEMS). At that time, these documents did not contain information on how ICE planned to measure its progress in making enhancements to GEMS or how ICE planned to report on the results of its efforts to enhance the system. After we provided our draft report to DHS for comment, ICE's legal office drafted a task order to contract with a software developer to assist in making enhancements to GEMS. As part of this task order, the legal office included a listing of key milestones for system enhancements. The legal office also included documentation in this task order that clearly articulates how, when, and to whom a status report on the results of efforts to enhance the system should be communicated. These actions address the intent of the recommendation and will assist ICE's legal office in effectively monitoring its progress in meeting its goals related to this effort and in obtaining reasonable assurance that its enhancements are being implemented as intended.
Department of Homeland Security To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to ICE's Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to develop documentation that clearly defines its methodology for conducting workforce planning efforts, the personnel responsible for conducting such efforts to enhance accountability, and its rationale for making staffing decisions, including any factors it considered in making those decisions.
Closed - Implemented
In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on actions that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) legal office took to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staff shortfalls. We reported, among other things, that ICE's legal office had not documented its methodology or the role of its staff responsible for determining its attorney needs, identifying and addressing related shortfalls, or deploying attorneys where they are needed. As a result, we recommended that ICE's Office of the Principal Legal Advisor develop documentation that clearly defines it methodology for conducting workforce planning efforts, the personnel responsible for conducting such efforts to enhance accountability, and its rationale for making staffing decisions, including any factors it considered in making those decisions. In February 2011, ICE's Principal Legal Advisor issued a directive to establish procedures for its attorney allocation process. The directive describes the personnel responsible for the office's workforce planning efforts and the overall methodology, data, and requirements for documenting the factors considered in making staffing decisions. Thus, ICE's legal office is better positioned to provide assurance that its staffing processes will be sustained over time, given that it now has an institutional record in the event of staffing changes.
Department of Homeland Security To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to USCIS's Office of Chief Counsel, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to document the office's plans for implementing a workforce data management system that clearly explains the goals of such an effort, major milestones, work tasks and products and the associated schedules and resources for achieving them, as well as performance measures and reporting mechanisms associated with the effort.
Closed - Not Implemented
In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on actions that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's (USCIS) legal office took to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staff shortfalls. We reported, among other things, that USCIS's legal office had not documented its plans for implementing a workforce data management system. As a result, we recommended that USCIS document its plans for implementing this system to clearly explain the goals of such an effort, major milestones, work tasks and products, and the associated schedules and resources for achieving them, as well as performance measures and reporting mechanisms associated with the effort. On September 14, 2007, USCIS reported that it had fully implemented the office's workforce data management system and that while it did not develop any specific formal planning documentation during the implementation of this data management system, it will document plans to address any significant revisions to the system in the future.
Department of Homeland Security To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to USCIS's Office of Chief Counsel, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to develop documentation that clearly describes its approach and the personnel responsible for conducting workforce planning efforts related to (1) using workforce data and other information related to time attorneys spend completing their work activities to develop needs assessments and deploy staffing resources where they are needed most, and (2) identifying and addressing staffing shortfalls to enhance accountability over staffing decisions.
Closed - Implemented
In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on actions that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's (USCIS) legal office took to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staff shortfalls. We reported, among other things, that USCIS's legal office had not documented policies and procedures that identify the staff responsible for managing staff shortfalls and for assessing its attorney needs, deploying its attorneys, and identifying shortfalls. We also reported that the legal office had not documented its approach for these staffing processes. Thus, we recommended that USCIS's legal office develop documentation that clearly describes its approach and the personnel responsible for conducting workforce planning efforts related to (1) using workforce data and other information related to time attorneys spend completing their work activities to develop needs assessments and deploy staffing resources where they are needed most, and (2) identifying and addressing staffing shortfalls to enhance accountability over staffing decisions. In August 2009, USCIS's legal office reported taking a number of actions to better address its workforce planning efforts, such as deploying a data management system to track and categorize activities conducted by USCIS attorneys including those related to federal court litigation and appeals of family based petition denials before the Board of Immigration Appeals, employment related disputes, and procurement advice, among others. In June 2011, USCIS's legal office issued a directive to establish procedures for its attorney allocation process. The directive describes the personnel responsible for the office's workforce planning efforts and the overall methodology, data, and requirements for documenting the factors considered in making staffing decisions. Thus, USCIS's legal office is better positioned to provide reasonable assurance that its staffing processes will be sustained over time given that is now has an institutional record in the event of staffing changes.
Department of Homeland Security To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to CBP's Office of Chief Counsel, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to develop documentation that clearly describes its criteria, methodology, analysis, data, and the personnel responsible for workforce planning efforts related to (1) using workforce data and other information related to time attorneys spend completing their work activities to develop needs assessments and deploy staffing resources where they are needed most, and (2) anticipating or addressing staffing shortfalls to enhance accountability over staffing decisions.
Closed - Implemented
In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on actions that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) legal office took to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staff shortfalls. We reported, among other things, that CBP's legal office does not have any written policies and procedures that describe the criteria, methodology, analyses, data, and staff responsible for assessing its attorney needs, determining where to deploy its attorneys, and anticipating and addressing staffing shortfalls before they occur. As a result, we recommended that CBP's legal office develop documentation that clearly describes its criteria, methodology, analysis, data, and the personnel responsible for workforce planning efforts related to (1) using workforce data and other information related to time attorneys spend completing their work activities to develop needs assessments and deploy staffing resources where they are needed most, and (2) anticipating or addressing staffing shortfalls to enhance accountability over staffing decisions. In May 2008, CBP's legal office issued a directive to establish procedures for its attorney allocation process. The directive described the personnel responsible for the office's workforce planning efforts and generally described the overall methodology, data, and criteria to use in such efforts. However, it was missing key elements such as the type of analysis its personnel should conduct related to workforce planning. After we communicated with CBP's legal office regarding these missing elements, in August 2009, the legal office modified and reissued the directive to include these elements. Specifically, the directive instructs CBP's legal office personnel to, among other things, examine the number of cases opened, the number of cases closed, and case type by attorney and office location in making its recommendations related to workforce planning. Thus, CBP's legal office is better positioned to sustain workforce planning procedures over time given that it has an institutional record in the event of staffing changes.

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