DHS launches project to digitize immigration records

Vendor Datatrac must complete digitization of the first million Alien Files in 12 months

Citizenship and Immigration Services, a Homeland Security Department agency, today unveiled a project to digitize millions of immigration records now available only on paper. The agency said the digitization project would form a cornerstone of its business transformation project.

The department chose a vendor for the project who plans to build a facility for the work in the home district of Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee.

CIS, the agency that processes applications for changes in immigration status, holds about 70 million immigration records, known as Alien Files or A-Files. It will establish a Records Digitization Facility in Williamsburg, Ky., that will digitize more than one million of the records.

CIS awarded a blanket purchasing agreement on July 20 for the project to Datatrac Information Services Inc. of Richardson, Texas. The company estimated the contract's value at $150 million over its five-year span. Datatrac will work with its subcontractor, Anacomp Inc. of San Diego to help CIS create, standardize and implement digitization technology for the new center, providing the foundation for electronic capture and management of the A-Files.

CIS has directed Datatrac to complete the digitization of the first million A-Files in 12 months, the company said. That requirement is part of the first 'call,' or task order, under the BPA.

Tony Keyes, vice president for business development at Datatrac, said locating the digitizing facility in Kentucky made sense for his company because it already has federal contract operations nearby. Datatrac is carrying out contracts for the FBI and the Labor Department in the area, he said.

'Putting it here in Chantilly [Va.], we wouldn't be competitive,' Keyes said, referring to lower labor costs in Kentucky compared to the Northern Virginia region.

Keyes said his company expects to employ about five engineers and technical staff at the Williamsburg facility, along with about 257 production workers. The clerical employees will prepare the immigration records for digitization and process related metadata, among other tasks, he said.

Keyes noted that DHS officials said Datatrac's proposal distinguished itself because 'We proposed a digitization center of excellence. We [stated in the proposal that we] would immediately take steps to get ISO 9000 certification for [the facility]. We took long view.' The International Standards Organization 9000 standard is a global benchmark for quality control.

The agency noted that the project would allow multiple users to access each digitized A-file simultaneously from remote locations. 'The ready availability of files will improve customer service and support the integrity of immigration applications,' CIS said. 'Moreover, when files are needed for law enforcement or national security reasons, the ability to make them available to multiple users simultaneously is very valuable.'

The agency's director, Emilio Gonzalez, said in a statement that 'the digitization of USCIS A-Files will increase efficiency, provide our customers with timely service they deserve, and simultaneously enhance our national security capabilities and protections against fraud and illegal activity.'

The CIS press release also included a statement by funding overseer Rogers. He represents Kentucky's fifth congressional district, where Williamsburg is located.

"I am incredibly pleased to welcome Datatrac to Williamsburg," said Rogers in the CIS press release. "Any time new jobs come into our region is a cause for celebration."

DHS has also looked to Rogers' district as the site for manufacturing Transportation Worker Identification Cards, which the Transportation Security Administration planned to produce in Corbin, Ky., another fifth district town.

Datatrac said its work would include physical and electronic records management, document scanning, metadata capture and creation of information to integrate with the agency's document management environment. The company called this first phase of CIS' digitization work the Integrated Digitization Document Management Program Alien-File Digitized Enterprise Solution.

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