GAO to INS: Revise architecture plan

GAO to INS: Revise architecture plan

INS' David Goldberg says the next architecture version will include program goals.

Agency IT officials say they will flesh out framework over next two years

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

The Immigration and Naturalization Service's IRM Office continues to receive criticism despite efforts to improve the agency's systems management.

A General Accounting Office report released this month highlights concerns about INS' enterprise architecture. The report, INS Needs to Better Manage the Development of its Enterprise Architecture, said the agency has taken only limited steps to improve its systems infrastructure.

The agency's IRM Office in December selected the Chief Information Officers Council's Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework as a template for creating an INS-wide systems plan. It also developed the Visual Information Technology Architecture, an automated tool for documenting and maintaining systems configurations throughout INS.

A caveat

'However, it has considerable work left to accomplish before it will have a complete, and thus useful, enterprise architecture,' the GAO report said.

INS officials acknowledge the agency's shortcomings. 'There has certainly been no enterprise or corporate focus on creating an enterprise architecture,' said David Goldberg, deputy assistant commissioner of IRM.

GAO pointed to management issues as the chief culprit. INS lacks the fundamental management structures and processes for successful architecture development, GAO said. The IRM Office conducted architecture work without including representatives from INS' program offices, the report noted.

Although much of the architecture is complete, it incorporates only some program processes, Goldberg said. But he disagreed with the contention that his staff worked in a vacuum.

In its plan, the IRM Office created a bottom-up description of INS' current IT environment and focused on system problems, GAO said.

INS dubbed the draft plan reviewed by GAO as its initial target architecture. The agency plans to complete it next month and use it for two years. During that time, Goldberg said, the IRM Office would revise the plan and incorporate INS program objectives.

A chief problem with the target architecture is that it basically describes near-term systems maintenance efforts and does not provide a definition of the business environment, GAO said.

As currently planned, this architecture would not satisfy federal or private-sector best practices, which advocate a top-down approach linking agency mission and business processes to systems, the auditors said.

INS has not begun working on a comprehensive enterprise architecture. GAO recommended the agency establish an enterprise architecture program office overseen by INS' Investment Review Board.

INS deputy commissioner Mary Ann Wyrsch, in a written response, agreed with all the recommendations except one. She said the Investment Review Board, which sets systems investment priorities, is not well-suited to manage and oversee architecture development. INS has not decided on a management plan for the architecture's development, she said.

GAO questioned INS' slowness in putting its management house in order. The report pointed out that the Justice Department inspector general and the Logistics Management Institute had raised similar concerns.

A July 1999 Justice IG report, which updated a report from the previous year, criticized INS' automation efforts. The IG made four recommendations:

•'Sufficiently track progress of systems projects and maintain a comprehensive inventory of projects

•'Estimate projected costs reliably and determine actual costs incurred

•'Improve monitoring of IT contracts

•'Ensure data integrity and reliability.

The Logistics Management Institute, a nonprofit management consultant in McLean, Va., in August 1998 had described INS' management processes as ineffective. In its report, Re-engineering IT Management at the INS, the institute concluded that agency management practices failed because INS did not use cost, schedule, technical or benefit baselines to track its systems projects.

On the mend

The agency has been working to meet the Justice IG's recommendations and expects to do so by October, Goldberg said.

INS' Executive Steering Committee, comprising eight IT managers and officials from the agency's budget and policy planning divisions, has tried to address systems management concerns over the past year, he said. The steering committee reports to the Investment Review Board, which INS created in 1997.

Goldberg said the board and the steering committee in the last year have begun to work together more effectively.

INS systems managers oversee what the agency calls portfolios or 'clusters of IT,' Goldberg said. For example, all the systems that support inspection functions would make up one cluster or portfolio.

For all projects, the IT shop now maintains standardized project workbooks, where the portfolio managers record decisions about projects and detail project status, Goldberg said.

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