GAO: Check INS buys

'The cause in this case is that actually doing their jobs has not been a priority for them.'

'GAO's Randy Hite

Henrik G. DeGyor

The Justice Department failed to properly oversee IT projects at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

GAO auditors, investigating at the behest of House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), found that Justice's process for overseeing IT investments was severely flawed, said Randy Hite, GAO's director for IT architecture and systems.

It's Justice's job to ensure that INS and other department agencies spend their IT dollars effectively, he said. 'If you or I were going to do that, we would want to know certain information about a project,' Hite said. 'What I am going to get for what dollar expenditure over what time, and how I am going to measure whether that is accruing or not?'

But, Hite said, Justice 'is not measuring the progress being made on these projects. You can't manage what you don't measure.'

Justice generally agreed with the report and said it would improve its systems management oversight. Hite said Justice CIO Vance Hitch has pledged to reform IT management.

Hite added that GAO's findings, detailed in Information Technology: Justice Plans to Improve Oversight of Agency Projects, are particularly troubling because of INS' poor track record in implementing IT projects and its integral role in homeland security.

'The antidote gets to the underlying cause,' Hite said. 'The cause in this case is that actually doing their jobs has not been a priority for them.'

In asking GAO to conduct the study, Sensenbrenner and several other lawmakers cited criticism of Justice IT efforts by the department's inspector general and the prospect that continued failures in INS systems would frustrate efforts to prevent crime and terrorism.

For the audit, GAO reviewed four INS systems:
  • Automated I-94, which INS had been using to capture arrival and departure data at ports before retiring it in February because the system did not meet the service's needs

  • Enforcement Case Tracking System

  • Automated Biometric Identification System

  • Integrated Card Protection System.

'For the four IT investments, Justice could not provide us with the information needed to measure the progress of the four INS investments against commitments,' the report said.

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