GAO: Justice Dept. oversight of INS projects is ineffective

Information technology projects undertaken by the Immigration and Naturalization Service have not received needed oversight by the Justice Department, the INS' parent agency, according to a report by the General Accounting Office.

According to the report, "Information Technology: Justice Plans to Improve Oversight of Agency Projects," the Justice Department has failed so far to implement an oversight process to measure progress against investment commitments. For example, the government watchdog agency found that Justice has only one staff member dedicated to overseeing the INS's IT investment portfolio of 107 IT systems ? and that staff member also oversees other Justice components' IT investments.

The GAO examined four key IT projects under way at the INS, and concluded that the oversight did not include "measuring progress against approved cost, schedule, performance and benefit commitments. As a result, Justice has not been positioned to take timely corrective action."

The four projects tracked by the GAO were:

* Automated I-94 System to capture arrival and departure data at selected air ports of entry. The system was retired in February 2002 because it did not meet mission needs, the GAO said.

* Enforcement Case Tracking System to provide a standardized method to book an apprehended individual and submit data to a common database. The planned system will support all INS enforcement case processing and management functions.

* Automated Biometric Identification System to screen aliens using biometric or other unique identification data, and to verify and authenticate asylum benefit applicants.

* Integrated Card Production System, which produces three types of cards: Employment Authorization Document; Permanent Resident Card (known as the "Green Card"); and the Laser Visa/Border Crossing Card, which allows Mexican nationals entrance into the United States.

Justice Department officials told the GAO that oversight hasn't been conducted because the department "has not given enough priority to the task, and because INS does not have the project data that would enable Justice to conduct effective oversight. As a result, Justice has allowed INS ? an agency that [the GAO] and the Justice Inspector General have reported to be challenged in managing IT ? to largely go unchecked in its attempts to leverage IT to improve mission performance."

"Justice cannot effectively oversee what it cannot measure," the GAO said.

The Justice Department recognizes the need to strengthen its oversight. The department already is planning to develop procedures for managing investments in departmentwide IT projects, such as developing a process to support the department in overseeing component agency IT investments so they meet cost, schedule and performance goals.

The GAO recommended that the Attorney General direct the Justice chief information officer to take steps to ensure that oversight of IT investments becomes a departmental priority, that the initiatives be planned and implemented "expeditiously," and that deviations from the oversight plans be reported to the Attorney General.

The report, released Nov. 22, was prepared for and delivered to James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; John Conyers, D-Mich., ranking minority member of the committee; George Gekas, R-Pa., chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims; and Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, ranking minority member of the subcommittee.

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