Immigration Tech System Wastes Well Over $1.7B

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: In the latest federal tech flop, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spent nearly two billion dollars on a flawed and inefficient IT system that was meant to speed up the processing of immigration applications and reduce the growing backlog – but did anything but.

A new Inspector General report that was released yesterday says that DHS’s new $1.7 billion Electronic Immigration System used to process forms for benefits, VISAs and refugee requests does not work well and takes twice as long as processing the applications by hand.

Related: A Long Wait at the Back of the Immigration Line

“The electronic immigration system was supposed to provide a more efficient and higher quality adjudication process,” the report said. “However, instead of improved efficiency, time studies conducted by service centers show that adjudicating on paper is at least two times faster than adjudicating in ELIS.”

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has about 18,000 employees, typically processes a daily average of 23,000 applications for immigration benefits and about 6,100 permanent resident cards.

The report, however, said that when employees use the automated system, it takes them an estimated 100 to 150 clicks per application – a more time-consuming process than just processing them manually.

This is a huge issue for an agency that is already inundated with application requests: More than 4.4 million people are on currently wait lists to get VISAs.

Related: Obamacare Tech Fail Speeds Federal IT Overhaul

The U.S. currently allows some 226,000 immigrants to receive green cards through family-based petitions filed by U.S. relatives each year. So, at that rate, it would take 19 years to clear the existing backlog of immigrants waiting for green cards, USA Today reported.

The auditors also detailed the IT system’s troubled past. It’s been plagued with serious delays and cost overruns that were the result of poor planning and staffing issues.

The system started under a $536,000 contract but costs have ballooned to over a $1.7 billion – and the agency is in the process of spending at least $58 million more to speed up the system.

In a response to the auditors, the agency says it’s aware of the system’s problems and has made several changes to reduce the number of clicks needed to process a form. Still, the auditors said that “due to the existing architecture, the agency is limited in its ability to make changes to the system.”

Several minor program changes are expected to be complete by the end of the year.

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