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Dear Editor:
Immigration Daily's May 19th Editor's comments said: If the new BCIS e-filing procedures do not integrate well with the existing systems, immigration practitioners may be left with the costs of remedying the situation.... However, such standard setting nirvana would be unprecedented in the relatively small world of immigration software, and would need visionary leadership, either from the government, or the Bar, or the industry. Hopefully, someone will answer this need for the benefit of the community. First, it is unlikely that any existing case management software will interface with a new government system without some modification. If the case management system happens already to use appropriate technology, that modification might be only superficial. Second, the small world of immigration software is not going to set standards here, but certainly will want to be a player as decisions are made. I would guess that, in order to really participate, software people need to look at the bigger picure of electronic government, not just immigration forms. It is not only BCIS that is keeping databases, and BCIS may not have full control over the design of their new electronic system. I have not stayed current on developments, but plans are being made on a higher level than BCIS or even DHS. The whole government is moving rapidly toward electronic transactions. The President signed the E-Government Act of 2002 in December, giving central authority to OMB. I'd bet there is more e-government legislation to come. And a lot of agencies -- federal, state, tribal and local -- are working on creating electronic government. Conventional databases do not work well with each other if they do not have compatible data models. The incompatibility of government databases is one of the key excuses for the intelligence failures related to 9/11. On the anti-terrorism front (where DHS plays a key role), DARPA's 'Information Awareness Office' is working intensively on this database problem. The DARPA pages indicate that this compatibility problem is being resolved, to some extent, by technologies like XML (e.g. references to 'schemas'). Other technologies that DARPA might be using, I cannot even guess. Any solution that works for immigration forms will probably also work for e-gov at national, state and local levels, too. The solution for immigration lawyers will probably be a specialization of a more general solution. To have leverage in the early stages of the development process, the developer may need to address more prominent and politically-correct facets of government. As the exchange of information with government databases is something both professionals (lawyers and government contractors) and laymen (individuals and small businesses) will need, there could be a general solution that works for everyone. However the layman will not be paying big money for the software. Will the government produce a free or inexpensive general solution or will it be left to private enterprise? In either case there is room for private initiative. I think it would be in the public interest to have an open-source project that interfaces with the government planners and develops a generalized software solution to private-public data exchange. Such projects are hosted on sites like or, for the better-funded projects, on their own websites like Or we can wait and see what Microsoft gives us.

Jesse Moorman

Editor's Note: Software standards can have either a broad or narrow scope. XML and its industry specific derivatives are examples of broad scope. The examples you provide of open source standards are also broad scope standards. Our comments refer to narrow scope standards which are found in many specific industries, including from time to time those formed with the participation of interested government agencies.

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