A consortium of IT and consulting firms, led by IBM, soon will start work on an electronic upgrade of federal immigration files and adjudication systems.
The federal Department of Homeland Security recently finalized the deal with IBM for the department’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency. Under terms of the technology and services contract, IBM will work with USCIS to move the agency to a new centralized and consolidated electronic environment that will enable faster, more efficient and accurate immigration benefits determination and processing, according to the company.
The initial value of the contract is $14.5 million with options up to $491.1 million over five years.
One of the goals of the new contract, which the agency refers to as the “Transformation Solution Architect task order,” is to convert USCIS’ case management operations from paper-based to electronic filings.
The new system will allow government agencies, from the Border Patrol to the FBI to the Labor Department, to access immigration records more quickly and with greater accuracy, according to an agency spokesman.
One of the tasks that USCIS will perform with the new system is processing of naturalization applications. In the latest fiscal year, the agency completed more than 1.17 million naturalization applications, up 50 percent from fiscal year 2007.
Another key task handled by the agency is processing paperwork. USCIS receives about 7 million applications annually for immigration benefits, such as employment visas, legal permanent residence and citizenship. The determination process is carried out through a paper-intensive system that has suffered from backlogs as the number of applications has increased, and security requirements have been strengthened.
Other tasks in which the agency participates include FBI name checks, refugee and asylum processing, and E-Verify. The latter is a program that enables 92,000 employers to determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers. With E-Verify, employers can verify that their new hires are authorized to work in the United States.
Agency has ambitious goals
USCIS has ambitious goals for the coming year, said acting director Jonathan Scharfen.
“During FY 09, USCIS’ goal is to achieve a 20 percent reduction in processing times for the majority of key petitions and applications, in spite of having to work through an unexpected surge of applications received during FY 07,” Scharfen said.
IBM will support USCIS’ efforts to modernize the agency’s processing procedures using advanced information technologies, and introduce new capabilities such as the use of person-centric customer accounts.
“IBM is pleased to support the USCIS mission. We believe this project will serve as an important model for other agencies seeking to transform the delivery of important government services,” said Charles Prow, managing partner, IBM Global Business Services, Government. “Through this ambitious initiative, USCIS will employ new tools to support benefits adjudication, and ultimately, improve their customers' experience navigating the immigration process.”
To make good on the contract, IBM has assembled a team of partners that includes Blackstone Technology Group, Deloitte Consulting, EDS, Evolver, The Legacy Network, Sandler and Travis Trade Advisory Services (STTAS), Sapient Corp., SI International, Unisys, and Visionary Integration Professionals, among others.
Future agreements are envisioned that will add more building blocks to USCIS’ transformation plan. These include contracts for program management office support, as well as a research and development center contract to assist in administrative and program oversight.