Nov 14

U.S. Government Takes 10 Years and Spends $1 Billion to Digitize a Single Form

Heaving under mountains of paperwork, the government has spent more than $1 billion trying to replace its antiquated approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records, online applications and a full suite of nearly 100 electronic forms.A decade in, all that officials have to show for the effort is a single form that’s now available for online applications and a single type of fee that immigrants pay electronically. The 94 other forms can be filed only with paper. 

From the start, the initiative was mismanaged, the records and interviews show. Agency officials did not complete the basic plans for the computer system until nearly three years after the initial $500 million contract had been awarded to IBM, and the approach to adopting the technology was outdated before work on it began.

By 2012, officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes USCIS, were aware that the project was riddled with hundreds of critical software and other defects. But the agency nonetheless began to roll it out, in part because of pressure from Obama administration officials who considered it vital for their plans to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies, according to the internal documents and interviews.

– From the Washington Post article: A Decade Into a Project to Digitize U.S. Immigration Forms, Just 1 is Online  

Another day, another example of almost incomprehensible government incompetence and waste.

Just yesterday, I highlighted how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid out $142 million in cash bonuses to employees immediately after the scandal that led to the death of at least 23 veterans waiting for care. It was just the latest example of how government bureaucrats are not only above the law, but are often actually rewarded for criminal incompetence.

Today’s article actually makes yesterday’s piece look minor in comparison. You can’t make this stuff up.

From the Washington Post:

Heaving under mountains of paperwork, the government has spent more than $1 billion trying to replace its antiquated approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records, online applications and a full suite of nearly 100 electronic forms.

A decade in, all that officials have to show for the effort is a single form that’s now available for online applications and a single type of fee that immigrants pay electronically. The 94 other forms can be filed only with paper. 

This project, run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was originally supposed to cost a half-billion dollars and be finished in 2013. Instead, it’s now projected to reach up to $3.1 billion and be done nearly four years from now, putting in jeopardy efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies, handle immigrants already seeking citizenship and detect national security threats, according to documents and interviews with former and current federal officials. 

From the start, the initiative was mismanaged, the records and interviews show. Agency officials did not complete the basic plans for the computer system until nearly three years after the initial $500 million contract had been awarded to IBM, and the approach to adopting the technology was outdated before work on it began.

By 2012, officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes USCIS, were aware that the project was riddled with hundreds of critical software and other defects. But the agency nonetheless began to roll it out, in part because of pressure from Obama administration officials who considered it vital for their plans to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies, according to the internal documents and interviews.

Only three of the agency’s scores of immigration forms have been digitized — and two of these were taken offline after they debuted because nearly all of the software and hardware from the original system had to be junked.

Now brace yourself for the most incredible part. The one form that was digitized, doesn’t even work.

The sole form now available for electronic filing is an application for renewing or replacing a lost “green card” — the document given to legal permanent residents. By putting this application online, the agency aimed to bypass the highly inefficient system in which millions of paper applications are processed and shuttled among offices. But government documents show that scores of immigrants who applied online waited up to a year or never received their new cards, disrupting their plans to work, attend school and travel.

The Government Accountability Office has blasted the immigration service for shoddy planning, saying the agency awarded the IBM contract “prior to having a full understanding of requirements and resources needed to execute the program.” As a result, basic planning documents were incomplete or unreliable, including cost estimates and schedules. The basic requirements for the project, the report said, were not completed until 2011 — nearly three years after the IBM contract was awarded.

Well at least IBM got paid.

The company’s initial approach proved especially controversial. Known as “Waterfall,” this approach involved developing the system in relatively long, cascading phases, resulting in a years-long wait for a final product. Current and former federal officials acknowledged in interviews that this method of carrying out IT projects was considered outdated by 2008. “The Waterfall method has not been successful for 40 years,” said a current federal official involved in the project, who was not an authorized spokesperson and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Yes, a “waterfall” of your tax dollars down the toilet. As usual.

By 2012, the system’s fundamental flaws — including frequent computer crashes and bad software code — were apparent to officials involved with the project and, according to one of them, and it was clear that “it wasn’t going to work.”

But killing the project wasn’t really an option, according to officials involved at the time. President Obama was running for reelection and was intent on pushing an ambitious immigration reform program in his second term. A workable electronic system would be vital.

Why am I not surprised in the least.

Immigration reform never made it out of Congress, but it could resurface after the presidential election next year. If it does, and if it involves possible citizenship or legal status for the 11.3 million immigrants who are in the country illegally, the policy would flood the government with millions of complicated new applications.

“Oh, God help us,’’ said Harry Hopkins, a former immigration services official who worked on the Transformation project. “If there is immigration reform, they are going to be overwhelmed.’’

God help us indeed.

For related articles, see:

Veterans Affairs Paid Out $142 Million in Cash Bonuses Immediately Following Deadly Scandal

Two-Tiered Justice: How DEA Agents Commit Egregious Acts with Zero Accountability

How the EPA Spent $92.5 Million of Taxpayer Funds on High-End Furniture

Vaccine Whistleblower Gave Congress Thousands of Documents, Claims CDC Destroyed Proof of MMR-Autism Link

DEA Agents Caught Having Drug Cartel Funded Prostitute Sex Parties Received Slap on the Wrist; None Fired

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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