ICT upgrade at US agency mired in difficulty

Scope creep and decentralised IT management are behind delays in a major initiative

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency is having trouble completing an ICT modernisation initiative because of repeated changes in focus and direction, says a report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The USCIS, which is an agency in the DHS, also duplicated previous ICT upgrade efforts and has not shown it can successfully execute on its plans, the OIG says in the report. The inspector general notes that the agency’s current effort covers some of the same ground as plans to replace legacy systems with a new case management system. Those plans were initially launched by a former CIO at the agency.

In September 2005, the OIG noted that the agency’s CIO had been working on a strategy to bring in the new case management system. However, the USCIS discontinued that plan midstream later that year and replaced it with the broader Business Transformation Programme. Although the current effort continues to focus on upgrading the agency’s technology, much of the planning conducted for the earlier upgrades has not been properly used, the OIG says in its report.

The OIG points out that as part of the first “IT Modernisation” plan, USCIS conducted a market study to identify procurement options and possible vendors — and developed an RFP. The newer programme, which began in October 2005, has launched a new market research effort to do the same thing, the OIG says.

In fact, the USCIS has cancelled two business modernisation efforts since 2003, according to the report. And while the agency has made progress in planning for ICT modernisation, it faces challenges in finalising its approach and moving to actual implementation.

“As we reported in September 2005, although USCIS had taken some steps to place major IT projects under the control of its CIO, the bureau continued to operate with a decentralised IT management structure,” according to the report (see next page). “Therefore, we recommend that USCIS complete implementation of [its] plans to centralise IT by placing all IT employees, budgets and systems under the CIO’s authority and control.”

The OIG also called on the USCIS to finalise and roll out plans to upgrade and standardise hardware and software systems, and to make sure users from across the bureau are involved in the effort.

In a written response to the OIG, USCIS deputy director Jonathan Scharfen generally agreed with the assessment and acknowledged that more work needs to be done. He also said that transforming USCIS business processes, coupled with updating IT, remains a high priority for the bureau.

However, Scharfen disagrees with the OIG’s assessment that the agency’s involvement in business transformation activities had “waned”. Scharfen says the agency’s IT office has remained involved over the past year, even while working with a new CIO.

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Tags IT managementmanagementCitizenship and Immigration Services

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