U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has spent more than $1 billion in the last decade attempting to digitize its massive paper-based filing system, but only one of 95 immigration forms can be completed online, the Washington Post reported. The project was slated to cost a half-billion dollars and wrap up by 2013, but it could instead total $3.1 billion and take an additional four years.
USCIS processes about 8 million applications per year, all of which can only be done by paper except for a form to renew or replace a lost or stolen green card, the document held by legal permanent residents. According to the Post, efforts to automate the immigration service throughout the last 10 years have been plagued with mismanagement, incomplete or delayed plans, and defective software. The agency also reportedly faced pressure from Obama administration officials to begin rolling out the system as part of the government’s plans to overhaul the country’s immigration policies.
“You’re going on 11 years into this project, they only have one form, and we’re still a paper-based agency,” Kenneth Palinkas, former president of the union representing immigration agency employees, told the Post. “It’s a huge albatross around our necks.”
In a report this year, the Government Accountability Office criticized USCIS, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, for awarding the initial $500 million computer system contract to IBM “prior to having a full understanding of requirements and resources needed to execute the program.” According to reports and documents, the basic requirements for the project were not completed until three years after the contract was awarded.
Officials say the department has since updated its previous technology and developing method, and has adopted a new approach that in part uses cloud computing.
“We took a fresh start -- a fix that required an overhaul of the development process -- from contracting to development methodology to technology,” Shin Inouye, a USCIS spokesman, said. “Our goals remain to improve operations, increase efficiency and prepare for any changes to our immigration laws. Based on our recent progress, we are confident we are moving in the right direction.”