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November 8, 2002

SUBJECT: Top Management Challenges - 2002 List

Top Management Challenges in the Immigration and Naturalization Service:

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) annually issues a list of top management challenges facing the Department of Justice (Department). This year, in light of pending legislation to transfer the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from the Department to the proposed Department of Homeland Security, we have created separate lists of top management challenges in the Department and in the INS. The following list of top INS challenges is intended to assist the Department of Homeland Security in successfully assimilating the INS, or the Department in managing the INS should it not be transferred.

  1. Border Security: The INS's ability to screen individuals seeking to enter the United States remains a key element of homeland security and the INS faces many challenges in this area. For example, we have found that the INS lacks adequate staff and equipment to guard northern land and water borders. The INS's strategy to control the southwest border, while much further deployed than its northern border strategy, needs additional infrastructure support, such as physical facilities and technology, and may take many years to fully implement. When the INS apprehends aliens, it does not have the capability to effectively identify those who are wanted by law enforcement or who may pose a threat to the United States. Also, the INS's capacity to detain aliens prior to their removal is not sufficient.

    The OIG has examined many facets of the INS's efforts to control U.S. borders. For example, in two reviews of the INS's Border Patrol deployment and operation along the northern border (OIG Report #I-2000-004, and follow-up report OIG Report #I-2002-004), we found that INS staffing and resource shortages along the northern border continue to be a critical impediment to effective control of illegal immigration. With respect to the southwest border, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reached similar conclusions. The GAO's report, "INS' Southwest Border Strategy: Resource and Impact Issues Remain After Seven Years" (GAO-01-842, August 2, 2001), estimated that it may take the INS up to another decade to fully implement its strategy.

    The OIG also has examined other methods of entry into the United States that are important to the border security challenge. "The Potential for Fraud and INS's Efforts to Reduce the Risks of the Visa Waiver Pilot Program" (OIG Report #I-99-10) and our follow-up report (OIG Report #I-2002-002) examined vulnerabilities in the Visa Waiver Program and found that INS inspectors lacked access to full information regarding missing and stolen passports. We also found serious security concerns in the Transit Without Visa Program. In two other reports, "Transit Without Visa (TWOV) Program Inspection" (OIG Report #I-92-27 and our follow-up report, "Improving the Security of the Transit Without Visa Program" (OIG Report #I-2002-005), we determined that airlines failed to supervise passengers at United States airports in the Transit Without Visa program, and that the INS could not verify that such passengers actually left the country. In another examination of port-of-entry (POE) operations, "Immigration and Naturalization Service Deferred Inspections at Airports" (OIG Report #01-29), we found that 11 percent of entering aliens who were allowed to enter the country upon condition that they agree to appear at an INS office to complete their deferred inspection failed to do so and that the INS's subsequent pursuit of such persons was incomplete and ineffective.

    The challenge of securing the nation's borders extends to how the INS processes aliens after they are apprehended. A critical part of this challenge is the integration of the INS's automated biometric fingerprint identification system (IDENT) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) integrated automated fingerprint identification system (IAFIS). Our most recent examination of the integration efforts, "Status of IDENT/IAFIS Integration" (OIG Report #I-2002-003), followed up on two prior reviews, "Review of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT)" (OIG Report #I-1998-010), and "The Rafael Resendez-Ramirez Case: A Review of the INS's Actions and the Operation of its IDENT Automated Fingerprint Identification System" (March 2000). In these reports, we recommended that the Department continue to seek linkage of the FBI and INS biometric identification systems and use IDENT while integration of IDENT and IAFIS is proceeding. We also recommended, as an interim measure, adding fingerprint records to the IDENT lookout database for aliens wanted in connection with crimes.

    The INS took this step, which according to the INS has resulted in the apprehension of thousands of aliens who had criminal warrants outstanding. We believe that full integration of IDENT and IAFIS will improve the ability of the INS to identify and detain aliens who are wanted for crimes or who may pose a threat to the nation's security. In recognition of the critical importance of integration of these systems, we are initiating another follow-up review in fiscal year (FY) 2003 to assess the progress of the integration efforts.

  2. Enforcement and Removal: The INS's ability to find and remove the estimated 7-12 million illegal aliens in the United States is an enormous challenge. Currently, there are many gaps in the INS's ability to identify aliens who are ineligible to remain in this country. The INS's systems for tracking when aliens enter and leave the United States clearly are inadequate. Improving these systems will require persistent efforts and substantial investments of resources. This will be a daunting challenge to an agency that does not have a history of success with large technology initiatives. Moreover, even if the INS succeeds in creating effective tracking systems, it must implement an effective program for removing aliens after they have been identified.

    In 1997, the OIG examined the INS's efforts to identify aliens who overstayed the limits prescribed by their visas, a condition that the INS has estimated involves approximately 40-50 percent of the illegal alien population in the United States. Recently, we conducted a follow-up review, "INS Efforts to Improve the Control of Nonimmigrant Overstays" (OIG Report #I-2002-006), which found that the INS has made little progress in effectively dealing with nonimmigrant overstays or in addressing the recommendations we made in 1997. The INS does not have reliable data on overstays or a reliable system to track overstays, and it acknowledges that any effective enforcement strategy depends on the future establishment of a comprehensive entry/exit system.

    The GAO reached similar conclusions in its report, "Immigration Enforcement: Challenges to Implementing the INS Interior Enforcement Strategy" (GAO-02-861T, June 19, 2002), which also examined the INS's efforts to develop an interior enforcement strategy. In 1999, the INS issued its Interior Enforcement Strategy to focus resources on areas that would have the greatest impact on reducing the size and annual growth of the illegal resident population. The GAO concluded that for the INS's interior enforcement strategy to be effective, the INS needs better data to determine staff needs, reliable information technology systems, clear and consistent guidelines and procedures for INS field staff, effective coordination within the INS and with other agencies, and performance measures that help the INS assess program results.

    The OIG recently assessed the INS's Institutional Removal Program (IRP), an INS program designed to identify deportable criminal aliens incarcerated in federal, state, and local correctional facilities and remove them from the United States upon completion of their sentence. Our review, "Immigration and Naturalization Service's Institutional Removal Program" (OIG Report #02-41), determined that the INS has not managed the IRP process effectively. We found that the INS has yet to determine the nationwide population of foreign-born inmates, particularly at the county level. Without this information, the INS cannot properly quantify the resources it needs to fully identify and process all deportable inmates. In addition, at the county level we found that IRP interviews of foreign-born inmates to determine deportability were minimal to non-existent. As a result, many potentially deportable foreign-born inmates passed through county jails virtually undetected. We found instances where inmates not identified by the INS as potentially deportable went on to commit additional crimes, including cocaine trafficking, child molestation, and aggravated assault, after being released into the community.

    Further, our review found that the INS did not always timely process IRP cases. As a result, it has been forced to detain in INS custody criminal aliens released from state and local correctional facilities - after they have served their sentence - until deportation proceedings can be completed. In the OIG's sample of 151 cases of criminal aliens in INS custody, we identified a total of $2.3 million in IRP-related detention costs, of which $1.1 million was attributable to failures in the IRP process within the INS's control. We estimated that the total cost of holding IRP inmates in INS detention could run as high as $200 million annually.

    In another OIG report, "The INS Escort of Criminal Aliens" (OIG Report #I-2001-005), we reviewed the INS's implementation of its policies for escorting criminal aliens who are being removed from the United States. We found that the INS placed the traveling public at potential risk because it did not consistently follow its own escort policy. Some INS supervisory field officials disregarded provisions of the INS escort policy, resulting in the transportation of violent aliens on commercial airlines without escorts. In addition, the INS failed to identify some dangerous aliens during the routine pre-removal alien file review process. We also found that INS field officials often failed to provide the required ratio of escorts to dangerous aliens, and the INS did not always provide escorts during the final segment of multi-flight removal trips.

  3. Entry/Exit and Student Tracking Systems: According to INS estimates, in FY 2001 the INS inspected over 35 million nonimmigrants at air POEs, approximately 1 million at sea POEs, and approximately 195 million at land POEs. However, because of inadequate tracking systems, the INS does not know whether these nonimmigrants have overstayed or otherwise violated the conditions of their admittance to the United States.

    As we discussed above, a reliable and efficient system of tracking nonimmigrant entries and exits is essential to the INS's enforcement and removal responsibilities. We evaluated the INS's efforts at developing an effective entry/exit system, which was mandated by Congress in both the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and the Immigration and Naturalization Service Data Management Improvement Act of 2000. In our audit report entitled "The Immigration and Naturalization Service's Automated I-94 System" (OIG Report #01-18), we determined that the INS's I-94 entry/exit system was a failure. At the time of our audit in 2000, the system operated at only four air POEs with the participation of only two airlines. The system had not been deployed at any land or sea POEs. We found that the INS's efforts to track the implementation of the system were inadequate. Despite having spent $31.2 million on the system from FY 1996 to FY 2000, the INS did not have clear evidence that the system would meet its intended goals, and estimated that an additional $57 million would be needed for FY 2001 through FY 2005 to complete the system.

    After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the effectiveness of monitoring nonimmigrant visitors came under additional scrutiny. The USA Patriot Act, enacted on October 26, 2001, requires that an integrated entry/exit control system be implemented with all deliberate speed and that an Integrated Entry and Exit System Task Force be established to accomplish this task. The exit/entry control system would collect and match arrival and departure records for every alien and provide reports on overstays. On February 18, 2002, the INS officially terminated the Automated I-94 System project. The INS created an Entry-Exit Program Office to explore alternative technical solutions and processes for the entry/exit control system. The INS faces enormous challenges to implement this system in a timely, complete, and cost-effective manner.

    In addition to its difficulties in tracking nonimmigrants generally, the INS has been unable to monitor effectively certain categories of nonimmigrants, such as students. In a report issued in May 2002, the OIG examined the INS's efforts to monitor the approximately 500,000 aliens who annually enter the United States under student visas. In our report, we first examined the INS's processing of two September 11 terrorists' applications for a change of status from visitor to student, and the reasons that the notification forms approving the change of status were mailed to a Florida flight school six months after the terrorists had died while perpetrating the September 11 attacks. We found the INS's adjudication and notification process to be untimely and significantly flawed. Even after adjudication, the requisite forms were delayed for months before being mailed to the flight school, which we attributed to the INS's failure to monitor a contractor's performance adequately.

    We then examined the INS's paper-based system for monitoring and tracking foreign students in the United States, and found that it was antiquated and inadequate. We concluded that the INS's new Internet-based student tracking system, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), will be a significant advance and will help address many of the failings of the current system. But SEVIS alone will not solve the problems of the INS's tracking of foreign students. For example, the INS must review and properly recertify thousands of schools that currently are certified to enroll foreign students, must ensure that its employees and the schools timely and accurately enter information into SEVIS, and must ensure that the information from SEVIS is analyzed and used adequately. We concluded that the INS was unlikely to meet the January 2003 deadline for full implementation of SEVIS. At the end of the report, we provided 24 recommendations to help address deficiencies in INS practices and procedures that we found in our review and in the INS's proposed implementation of SEVIS.

  4. Applications Backlog: The INS handles approximately 50 types of applications for immigration services, including applications for employment authorization, change of status to permanent residence, asylum, and citizenship. Processing the millions of applications in a timely and consistent fashion has been a longstanding challenge for the INS.

    This challenge was examined in an OIG special report, "An Investigation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Citizenship USA Initiative" (July 31, 2000). At the time the INS initiated Citizenship USA, it projected that an applicant for citizenship would have to wait three years for agency action. The report found that during the time in which the INS focused attention on this poorly planned effort at reducing the citizenship backlog, the backlog of applications for other immigration benefits grew substantially.

    The GAO reported similar problems in its report, "Immigration Benefits: Several Factors Impede Timeliness of Application Processing" (GAO-01-488, May 4, 2001). The GAO also found that while the backlog for citizenship had decreased, the backlog for other applications had increased. The GAO concluded that the INS experienced significant problems managing its application workload, despite years of increasing budgets and staff. It found that the INS did not maximize the deployment of staff to process applications in a timely fashion because it lacks a systematically developed staff resource allocation model. The GAO also found that the INS did not know how long it took to process applications because its automated systems contained unreliable data and its districts did not have automated systems for tracking many types of applications.

    As noted above, in the OIG report on the INS's contacts with two September 11 terrorists, the OIG found significant backlogs in the processing of I-539 applications for change of status. Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi had applied to the INS Texas Service Center to change their immigration status from tourist to student in the year before the attacks on the World Trade Center. Both Atta's and Alshehhi's I-539 applications took 10 months for adjudication. This type of delay in adjudicating I-539 applications was typical because I-539s had been a low priority for the INS, resulting in substantial processing backlogs. The average processing times for I-539s have remained consistently high since at least 1998, ranging from 129 to 200 days. For FY 2002, the INS made processing I-539s a priority and set the target processing time at five months. However, we question whether the INS can meet its new processing deadlines unless sufficient resources are consistently devoted to the effort.

    Our annual audits of the INS's financial statement continued to find evidence of significant deficiencies in the INS's ability to handle immigration applications and monitor its productivity and progress in addressing backlogs. During FY 2000, INS management had to expend tremendous efforts in conducting a wall-to-wall physical inventory of applications to determine how many it had pending and how many it had processed to completion at the end of the fiscal year. The INS manually counted approximately 2 million applications - first, in several preliminary counts and then a final end-of-year count that shut down production at several sites for more than a week and delayed application processing. We concluded that the INS needs an automated system for recording the status of pending applications and for better managing its backlogs.

  5. Financial Statements and Systems: The INS continues to expend tremendous manual efforts and costs in preparing its financial statements and supporting financial statement audits. This is due primarily to the lack of automated systems that readily support ongoing accounting operations, financial statement preparation, and the audit process. For instance, although the INS obtained an unqualified opinion in its FY 2001 financial statement audit, the achievement was tenuous and does not reflect a healthy financial accounting system. The INS has been in the process of replacing its core financial system for over five years. Among other problems, it continues to use a significant feeder system that does not comply with federal financial systems criteria. The INS still processes the majority of its transactions through the Financial Accounting and Control System (FACS), its legacy accounting system, which now serves as a feeder system to its new Federal Financial Management System. However, FACS has many inherent control weaknesses due to its age and design.

    While the INS has made progress in its financial statements, it still needs to make further improvement in areas such as identification of deferred revenue, financial management systems controls, general electronic data processing controls, verification of intra-governmental transactions, documentation of accrual estimation, and controls over key performance measures. In our FY 2001 financial statement audit, we identified the first three items as material weaknesses.

    In addition, as discussed above, the INS has a critical problem determining how many immigration benefits applications it has processed and, thus, its calculation of earned revenue and management of its examinations fee account. So far, it has been able to meet the end-of-year requirement only by a manual count and shutdown of some processing facilities.

    None of these deficiencies is subject to easy solution. We believe the INS's challenge will increase as the government accelerates the completion dates for the financial statements and shifts to quarterly reporting.

  6. Information Technology Planning and Implementation: The INS's implementation of technology projects has been a long-term management challenge. The Department recognized the challenge when it identified INS information technology as a material weakness in 1998. In an OIG report issued that year, "Immigration and Naturalization Service Management of Automation Programs" (OIG Report #98-09), we concluded that the INS had not adequately managed its automation programs. The report warned that the INS was at risk that completed projects would not meet their intended goals, completion of the automation programs would be significantly delayed, and unnecessary costs could occur.

    A year later, the OIG issued a follow-up report (OIG Report #99-19) that found continuing problems with INS information technology planning and management. Specifically, we reported that project costs continued to increase without established baselines against which actual costs incurred could be compared and without justifications for the increases. We found that INS managers did not adequately monitor planned project tasks to ensure timely completion and that monthly progress reviews were incomplete, unclear, and untimely. Further, the INS had not developed comprehensive performance measures to ensure that completed projects, once deployed, would meet intended goals. Finally, the report noted serious deficiencies in the INS's compliance with its system development life-cycle process. As a result, the INS had no assurance that systems would meet performance and functional requirements.

    We continue to have concerns about the INS's management of its information technology programs. For example, we performed an audit entitled, "The Immigration and Naturalization Service's System Data Pertaining to Secondary Inspections at Selected Preclearance Airports" (OIG Report #01-11), to assess the technology available to INS inspectors at secondary inspection sites. INS inspectors at airports rely on inspection data maintained in the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS). Other federal entities and INS programs rely on TECS data in their law enforcement operations. Our audit found variations in the reliability of INS data entry practices. For example, at one site INS inspectors entered the required referral designation and secondary inspection results in TECS for only 3 percent of the approximately 51,000 secondary inspections performed during the audit period. The lack of reliable data jeopardizes other INS law enforcement efforts, including the INS's ability to provide assistance to other federal entities.

    We have discussed above other OIG reports that described vulnerabilities in INS information technology programs, including the status of IDENT/IAFIS integration (OIG Report #I-2002-003), the INS's contacts with two September 11 terrorists, and the Automated I-94 System (OIG Report #01-18). Significant issues that we continue to find in INS information technology projects demonstrate the need for a major dedication of resources and oversight to this critical management challenge.

  7. Computer Systems Security: The INS depends on computers to process millions of immigration transactions, to record its dealings with millions of aliens, and to conduct its office automation activities. Protecting these systems from unauthorized access, manipulation, or destruction is vital to the INS's operations. The OIG has examined the security of INS computer systems pursuant to the Government Information Security Reform Act and performed additional testing while conducting the annual financial statement audit. Computer systems security remains a critical challenge that the INS, like other government agencies, must address on a continuing basis.

    For example, we reviewed the "backbone" INS system that provides office automation tools to more than 30,000 INS employees and 10,000 contractor employees worldwide. We also reviewed the automated system that supports INS records management functions. Our review of the management, operational, and technical controls that protect the INS's core network found medium to high vulnerabilities for unauthorized use, loss, or modification in 9 of the 17 control areas that were tested, with 2 reported as high vulnerabilities. We noted a need for improvements or corrective actions with respect to the security evaluation and risk assessment; interconnections with other networks; intrusion detection systems; tape management; and access, password, and encryption practices.

    Our review of the INS records management system found deficiencies in 12 of the 17 control areas tested. We found inadequate security evaluation and risk assessment practices, and recommended that these deficiencies may warrant rescinding the system's certification and accreditation in favor of an interim approval to operate until corrective action is completed. We also recommended corrective action regarding system contingency planning and clarification of the responses required in the event of a service disruption. In all, the OIG made 18 recommendations to the INS for corrective actions regarding the 2 systems.

  8. Detention Space Management: Obtaining and efficiently managing detention space for INS detainees is a critical management challenge. In 2000, the INS apprehended 1.8 million aliens, many of whom are held temporarily before being voluntarily returned to Mexico. Statutory changes enacted by Congress in 1996, which require the INS to detain certain classifications of aliens until their removal, have increased the number of aliens who must be detained for more than short periods. For example, the number of aliens detained for formal removal or other immigration proceedings has grown, from 72,154 in 1994 to 188,547 during 2001.

    To obtain additional detention space, the INS has relied on outside contractors (including state and local governments and for-profit entities) to house INS detainees. For example, the Department's Detention Trustee has estimated that almost 70 percent of the Department's detainees (which also includes those held by the U.S. Marshals Service) are held in state, local, or contractor-operated facilities. OIG audits of contractors for detention space have resulted in significant dollar findings, generally for unsupported costs. For example, in FY 2001 we issued an audit of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) for detention space with York County, Pennsylvania (OIG Report #GR-70-01-005). The audit revealed that in FY 2000, York overcharged the Department in excess of $6 million due to York's understatement of its average daily population, a key figure used to determine reimbursement from the INS. Further, our audit estimated that the Department could save an additional $6.4 million if the rate was lowered to comport with the audited figures and the Department used the same number of jail days during the following year.

    Other OIG audits identified significant overpayments that the INS and the Department made under other IGAs. For example, our audit of an IGA with the DeKalb County, Georgia, Sheriff's Office (OIG Report GR-40-02-002) found that the INS was over-billed by $5.7 million in FY 2001. DeKalb County's understatement of the average total inmate population by more than 29 percent resulted in this over-billing. An audit of the Government of Guam (OIG Report GR-90-01-006) found that for the period of October 1, 1998, through September 30, 2000, the Department overpaid Guam more than $3.6 million based on the actual allowable costs and the average daily population. In addition, the OIG found that the Department could realize annual savings of $3.3 million by using the audited rate for future payments.

    The INS has not yet acted to recover these overpayments. At York, the INS has not reduced its payments to conform to the audited rates. Moreover, in our view, the INS and the Department have not yet settled on a procurement process to obtain detention space in a manner that meets existing procurement regulations.

    Juvenile illegal aliens present special detention challenges for the INS. In our report entitled "Unaccompanied Juveniles in INS Custody" (OIG Report #I-2001-009), we found that the INS did not always segregate non-delinquent juveniles from delinquent juveniles and that the INS was not always able to promptly place juveniles in a detention facility or shelter due to a shortage of appropriate facilities. In another report, entitled "Juvenile Repatriation Practices at Border Patrol Sectors on the Southwest Border" (OIG Report #I-2001-010), we found that unaccompanied Mexican juveniles sometimes were detained over a weekend at Border Patrol stations in holding cells built for temporary confinement.

  9. Organizational Structure: For several years, the INS has considered various reorganization plans. Congress also has proposed restructuring the INS in an effort to address many of its management and programmatic challenges. Recently, the Administration and Congress have proposed to transfer all or part of the INS's functions to the Department of Homeland Security.

    A major redesign of the INS's structure and location could affect, at least in the short term, productivity, quality assurance, employee morale, and the quality of the services provided to the public. The challenge for the INS, in whichever organization it is located, will be to ensure that the reorganization accomplishes its intended purposes and that the agency's essential services and functions continue without interruption during the transition. Whichever way the INS is reorganized, fundamental corrections in its business practices, policies, and systems are necessary. We believe it is imperative that any reorganization or transfer of the INS not substitute or delay such corrective actions.

  10. Human Capital: To fulfill its mission, the INS must have sufficient trained staff and supervisors. This has been a critical challenge for the INS. For example, the INS has had difficulty filling Border Patrol agent positions because of high attrition rates among agents, delays in recruitment, and limitations in training facilities. These problems have been exacerbated by the recruiting successes of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Sky Marshal program and TSA's ability to offer higher pay than the INS for many of its positions.

    Like other parts of the Department, the INS also suffers from difficulties in attracting and retaining employees in information technology and computer security positions. Moreover, the INS's average workforce is less experienced as a result of significant attrition among experienced employees. The INS also is heavily reliant upon contractor support for many functions associated with its information systems, records management, immigration service processing, detention services, guard services, and other functions.

    In our examinations of the INS's programs and operations, we frequently have encountered inconsistent and nonconforming business practices and transactions. Field offices use different forms, criteria, and often appear ignorant of agency policy and guidance. In particular, we have found both inconsistent practices among field offices and fundamental deficiencies in common business transactions. These findings suggest that, among other measures, the INS needs to improve its training so that employees perform their duties correctly and in accordance with standard INS policy.

    While the INS is not unique in experiencing a human capital challenge, correction of the many difficult systemic problems that we have described in this list of top management challenges requires an adequately trained and qualified INS workforce. To the extent INS does not address human capital challenges, its ability to solve its other management challenges will be undermined.