Acting DHS chief plans to unify immigration IT

The Trump administration plans to seek supplemental 2019 and 2020 funds to push its border policies, including IT modernization plans.

8 prototypes of the border walls as tweeted by CBP San Diego

Prototypes for a proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan told a House Appropriations subcommittee the administration will be pushing for more funds to implement tough immigration policies. DHS will also push for IT processing support, he added, to help the agency deal with a historic flood of migrants at the U.S-Mexico border.

McAleenan said the administration will be seeking a fiscal year 2019 supplemental appropriation as well as additional funds in the 2020 DHS budget request. Overall, plans include $8 billion in spending on a border wall, spread between DHS and the Department of Defense.

DHS asked for $51.7 billion in net discretionary funding for fiscal year 2020 and an additional $19.4 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund.

McAleenan did not specify how much money would be requested in the supplemental. DHS did not respond to FCW's inquiry about the new request.

The hearing was McAleenan's first since becoming acting DHS secretary only weeks ago, after being bumped up from commissioner of Customs and Border Protection when former secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned under pressure.

While much of the questioning focused on immigration policy issues including detention, housing and separation of children from parents and guardians, McAleenan also pointed to tech as a driver to help the administration address record numbers of migrants and asylum seekers coming to the border as the administration is looking to dramatically reduce both illegal immigration and asylum grants.

McAleenan said CBP and Border Patrol were seeing "unprecedented" numbers of migrants that include families and children in "an acute and worsening crisis" at the southwestern border. In February, he said, CBP saw over 76,000 illegal border crossers and inadmissible aliens. In March the number topped 100,000, which McAleenan said was the highest monthly level in more than a decade.

The additional budget request, he said, will include funds for transportation, food, and housing facilities, as well as money for upgrades to the IT systems that support immigrant processing. He did not specify which IT systems would be impacted by the supplemental request.

McAleenan said an overarching goal for his agency would be to unify all of its components' immigrant processing IT, under an "immigration portal" that would unify the many different processing systems, from CBP, to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"The portal will connect various systems to allow tracking throughout the system," he said. "It will provide connection to various systems and make sure an individual being processed can be tracked throughout the system efficiently and in an expedited manner, improve our processing and the integrity of the system."

Workforce push

McAleenan also said CBP hopes to hire additional agents to help deal with the influx. The agency has asked for funding to hire 750 additional Border Patrol Agents, 273 CBP Officers, and more than 1,660 ICE frontline and support personnel.

CBP's cancelled multi-million personnel recruitment contract with Accenture wouldn't be a part of that effort, however, McAleenan said.

In March John Goodman, the chief executive of Accenture Federal Services, told lawmakers the 2017 contract had resulted in 36 hires "who had entered duty" and 56 job offers before CBP issued a partial stop work order in December.

"It didn't work out the way we intended," McAleenan told Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.) when the legislator asked about the contract.

McAleenan told Rutherford the contract wasn't for naught and his agency would be taking some "lessons learned" to apply to its future hiring efforts. Those lessons include using digital marketing techniques that targeted likely hiring candidates. The agency will also concentrate on "applicant aftercare" to keep applicants informed on where their applications stand and next steps in the hiring process.