USCIS mismanaged immigration processing project, auditors report

For three years, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has been mishandling a $1.7 billion project that is supposed to digitize casework, resulting in a premature contract award, implementation delays and hundreds of millions of wasted dollars, according to federal auditors.

In November 2008, the agency, part of the Homeland Security Department, signed a $500 million deal with IBM, "in effect selecting an acquisition approach before completing documents required by DHS management directives," states a Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday.

USCIS failed to devise system requirements, a baseline cost and schedule for measuring progress, and an acquisition plan. Neglecting to satisfy these requirements "contributed to program deployment delays of over two years" and USCIS estimates "it will have spent about $703 million, about $292 million more than the original program baseline estimate," through fiscal 2011.

The agency expects to launch its first computerized form in December and to activate the entire system in 2014. But, GAO officials said, the agency still does not have a credible schedule for project completion or controls in place to prevent ballooning expenses.

"USCIS does not have reasonable assurance that it can meet its future milestones," the auditors said. "Not meeting best practices increases the risk of schedule slippages and related cost overruns, making meaningful measurement and oversight of program status and progress, and accountability for results, difficult to achieve."

In responding to a draft of the report, Homeland Security officials outlined steps that USCIS is taking to produce realistic time frames for deployment and life-cycle cost estimates.

In a February 2009 memorandum, then-USCIS Chief Information Officer Jeff Conklin said that the project's roadmap "did not provide a realistic capability to guide, constrain or measure the solutions architect because the business process mappings were incomplete and vague, among other reasons," the report stated.

This spring, Greg Ulans, a former USCIS internal controls specialist, told Government Executive, Nextgov's sister publication, that Conklin's efforts to report mismanagement went unheard and ultimately led to his involuntary reassignment. USCIS officials declined to comment on the reassignment at the time.