Ten Years And $3bn Into Immigration Digitization, The Government Has Processed 1 Form


The government is terrible at computers. It gets breached, intercepted, and defaced… and that’s when they can actually get a website up and running, as the well-known Obamacare problems remind us.

Despite the VA promising to improve its outdated records systems, so bad they once nearly caused a structural collapse from the weight of paper, it’s not modernizing fast enough to help our veterans.  Technology legislation and execution just aren’t the federal government’s wheelhouse.

Our computer crime laws were literally written in response to Matthew Broderick movies. So in news that’s not a great surprise to anyone, the Washington Post is reporting today that we’ve botched another records modernization push.

The government has managed to digitize a grand total of a single immigration form… in 10 years. There are 94 others left to complete, meaning at this pace they’ll be finished at about the time I’m dead long enough for my writings to pass into the public domain.

Technically, three forms made it through, but two had to be pulled because “nearly all of the software and hardware from the original system had to be junked.”

According to the Post: “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years after the initial $500 million contract had been awarded to IBM, and the approach to adopting the technology was outdated before work on it began.”

So far it’s projected to have cost $3.1 billion dollars, ballooning from an initial projection of $500 million, for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to complete a technology update that was supposed to be finished two years ago.

Now they’re suggesting it’ll take four more years, though at the glacial pace it’s going thus far I wouldn’t hold my breath, and remember that $3.1 billion is simply a projection: that could balloon as well. Pause for a moment to remember this is a basic government system and we’ve now spent the budget of about 30 Hollywood blockbusters on it.

The DHS has admitted setbacks since 2012, and that the software was buggy, but they rolled it out anyway “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.”

The only form available for filing is an application for renewing or replacing a lost Green Card. Nothing else is ready, despite work having gone on for over a decade, and the flaws being known about for at least three years.

Shin Inouye, spokesman for the Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the Post: “In 2012, we made some hard decisions to turn the Transformation Program around using the latest industry best practices and approaches, instead of simply scratching it and starting over. We took a fresh start — a fix that required an overhaul of the development process — from contracting to development methodology to technology.

“Since making these changes, we have been able to develop and deploy a new system that is able to process about 1.2 million benefit requests out of USCIS’s total annual work volume. Our goals remain to improve operations, increase efficiency, and prepare for any changes to our immigration laws. Based on our recent progress, we are confident we are moving in the right direction.”

Time will tell how long it takes for them to right the ship, but it’s this sort of mismanagement that makes people uncomfortable sharing information with the government and using government sites – along with the snooping, obviously. No offense, but I’m not trusting people with a 1 in 94 success ratio with my data.

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