DHS on cusp of immigration IT makeover

The Homeland Security Department's Citizenship and Immigration Services agency soon will unveil major acquisitions that will reshape its technology and business processes, according to CIO Terrazzia Martin.

"We have a lot of pending solicitations," Martin told a lunch meeting of the Industry Advisory Council yesterday. She said she expected CIS would begin an acquisition for systems integration of the agency's data and case management by the end of this month.

CIS likely will seek a managed services agreement to build out its infrastructure, she said, and seek contractor help in scanning a vast array of records now held in caves in Missouri, among other places. Scanning would replace a keyboard entry process that now costs about $100 million annually and generates data with a very high error rate, she said.

Since taking her post 14 months ago, Martin has centralized the agency's IT operations and brought the number of professionals she supervises up from 28 to about 428, she said. She has also created a program management office to help oversee CIS' contractor array of more than 100 companies, she said, and she seeks to further strengthen that office.

The agency remains beset by systems woes, including the need to work within the limits of a platform based on Microsoft Windows 95 and extract information from 63 systems that have not been integrated, Martin said.

To help avoid problems during the creation of an integrated case management system for handling the agency's critical "A files," CIS studied the mistakes made by the FBI in its unsuccessful Virtual Case File project and by the Treasury Department's Internal Revenue Service in similar efforts.

CIS plans to build a customer service portal and move toward online applications, Martin said. Contractors who have met with CIS technology specialists said the agency likely will outsource much of the work.

The agency announced plans for the IT overhaul in a request for information to contractors issued last July, but has generally been quiet about its path forward since then.

Wilson S. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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