INS says poor documentation foils IT efforts

INS says poor documentation foils IT efforts

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

Poor documentation, not inferior systems management, is the real culprit behind agency weaknesses that the Immigration and Naturalization Service's inspector general reported last month, INS officials said.

'Mea culpa; our documentation was not where it should have been,' said George H. Bohlinger III, executive associate commissioner of the Office of Management. 'That only means that we could be at fault, but we don't know that.'

The IG last year began the audit of INS' automation efforts, which the agency launched in 1995 after it received funds through the Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

In an initial report last year, the IG concluded that INS was not adequately managing its automation programs, on which it originally expected to spend $2.6 billion. By last month, despite a few INS initiatives to rectify the problem, the agency still had not met overall automation goals because of improper management, and the estimated program cost had risen to $2.8 billion, the IG said in its final audit.

A closer look

'Based on our review and analysis of fiscal 1997 monthly progress reviews, we found no evidence that the Office of IRM prepared annual cost estimates from which actual costs could be monitored and controlled,' the IG report said. 'Monthly progress reports were incomplete, unclear and untimely.'

Inadequately monitored projects and incomplete reports led to delays. About 103 projects were due for completion during fiscal 1997; 28 projects were incomplete by the end of that year, the IG reported.

For example, the September 1997 progress review showed a planned completion date of September 2000 for the Policy, Planning, Standards and Quality Management Project. A month later, a progress review said the project would not be complete until September 2003 but included no explanation for the three-year slippage, the IG report said.

'Many of the [projects] were items discussed over the table, but nobody had the time to collect that information,' said David Goldberg, deputy associate commissioner for IRM.

INS is setting up systems to provide project managers with timely information to guarantee that systems projects do not exceed their approved budgets, Goldberg said. But he could not provide specifics about how that process occurs now. The processes are in place, he said, but they will be standardized and written down this month.

The IG report also noted the lack of lifecycle management reviews, which entail documenting and identifying problems for project phases. Such reviews help an agency keep a project on track and let managers monitor performance, the IG said.

In 1995, when INS began its automation effort, the agency based its costs on speculation, not on systems development lifecycle studies, Goldberg said. So the total price tag for the effort has risen by $200 million.

'We missed crucial steps in lifecycle management,' Bohlinger said. 'The steps that we missed, we will do.'

INS also lacked a comprehensive listing of projects. The IRM Office provided the IG with a list of 57 projects, then provided another list with 96 projects, but even that list was open to interpretation, the report said.

Bohlinger said INS is implementing changes in its automation efforts through three directives, which are related to the IG report but not necessarily in reaction to it:

' First, it is looking at its business practices. 'We are now looking at how we do business,' Bohlinger said. 'The IG found certain things, and we need to implement good business practices, with record-keeping and rigorous lifecycle management.'

INS has set up portfolio managers who understand the missions of each information technology project, he said.

' Second, the INS is itemizing its budget based on the project list. The agency's Investment Review Board, created in response to the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996, will analyze all budgetary needs for the automation effort. The INS board will break down the project requirements dollar by dollar.

' Third, INS has established the Service Technology Alliance Resources program to improve its contracting process by providing extensive project-level documentation, Bohlinger said.

The IG report said INS had not monitored its automation contracts adequately. INS relies heavily on contractors to develop and maintain its contracts.

As of Jan. 30, 1998, INS had 29 contracts worth $1.6 billion; the total obligations and expenditures for the 29 contracts were more than $684 million.

INS has been working with the Defense Contract Audit Agency, completing several contract audits that have resulted in more than $2.5 million in credit adjustments and proposed rate reductions, the IG said in last month's report.

The IG's 'recommendations are common sense, which anyone would want to follow,' Bohlinger said.

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