Friday, November 7, 2008

What took you so long George?

With only seventy-five days left in office, George Bush has finally taken some action to fix the woefully outdated and inefficient infrastructure of the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Service that handles millions of immigration cases each year.

Eight years after first requesting modernization of a system that still relies on pre-computer age technologies to handle 70 million paper-based files, the agency is finally going to enter the 20th century.

I guess all that can be said is …. Better late than never.

But one can only wonder about all the human suffering that could have been avoided if George had only had the political courage to do this eight years ago instead of waiting until he was just about out the door to "sneak" it past the rabid right-wing who wanted all DHS resources spent on walls, raids, and detention camps.

The Bush administration has launched a massive overhaul of the nation's long-troubled immigration services agency, tapping an IBM-led industry consortium to re-invent the way government workers help immigrants obtain visas, seek citizenship and get approval to work in the United States.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service announced that it has asked IBM to be its "solutions architect" to change the technology and processes used by its 16,000 government and 6,000 contract workers at 280 locations nationwide.

The contract, awarded this week and the largest federal homeland security bid on the market, includes a $14.5 million, 90-day assessment period with options over five years worth $491.1 million, and a ceiling value of up to $3.5 billion if Congress approves a broad overhaul of the nation's immigration laws that unleashes a flood of applications for legal status or other actions

The USCIS transformation effort is a long-awaited, much delayed undertaking that is years behind initial schedule yet considered a cornerstone of any broader effort to fix an immigration system all sides say is one of the most broken bureaucracies in the federal government.

The agency, which was spun off from the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services and merged into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, receives about 6 million to 8 million applications from immigrants a year, but relies on a pre-computer age, paper-based system of 70 million files identified by immigrants' "A-numbers" or alien registration numbers.

The system costs tens of millions of dollars a year for to archive, store, retrieve and ship files; has led to the loss or misplacement of more than 100,000 files; and contributed to backlogs of hundreds of thousands of cases and delays of months and years, auditors have found.

Immigration officials say modernization efforts have been delayed since 1999 by funding problems, inertia, increased security demands, and the DHS reorganization….but has been delayed by bureaucratic infighting, indecision and caution as other major homeland security contracts have gone off track, such as SBInet, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection effort to build a "virtual" fence using surveillance technology on the border…

Washington Post

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