USCIS Transformation:

Improvements to Performance, Human Capital, and Information Technology Management Needed as Modernization Proceeds

GAO-07-1013R: Published: Jul 17, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 2007.

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GAO and Inspector General (IG) reports have noted that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) efforts to modernize over the last 4 years have been unfocused, conducted in an ad hoc and decentralized manner, and, in certain instances, duplicative. In 2006, USCIS decided to reexamine its modernization effort within the context of an agencywide organizational and business transformation initiative. The agency embarked on a transformation of its business processes and technology aimed at increasing national security and integrity, improving customer service, and achieving operational efficiency. We agreed with this approach and recommended that USCIS employ key practices for successful organizational transformations to better ensure the success of its efforts. USCIS plans to complete its transformation by 2013 at an estimated cost of up to $536 million, mostly funded by fee revenues. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2007 mandated that GAO review USCIS' transformation plans before the agency can obligate $47 million in funding for the transformation. Congress also requested that specific information be included in USCIS' plan: all resources associated with transformation efforts (appropriations and fees), including a detailed breakout of costs for fiscal year 2007, and the impact of availability of fee revenue; alignment of the transformation process with DHS' enterprise architecture; and details on expected project performance and deliverables. Pursuant to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007, USCIS, in May 2007, submitted to the congressional appropriations committees its Transformation Program Strategic Plan and Expenditure Plan. As required by the act, we reviewed these plans. Our objectives were to (1) describe the extent to which USCIS' plans incorporate key practices identified by GAO for organizational transformations, and (2) describe if and how USCIS' plans include congressionally requested information.

USCIS' plans partially or fully address most key practices for organizational transformations. For example, USCIS has taken initial steps in addressing problems identified with past efforts to modernize by establishing a Transformation Program Office (TPO) that reports directly to the USCIS Deputy Director to ensure leadership commitment; dedicating people and resources to the transformation; establishing a mission, vision, and integrated strategic goals; focusing on a key set of priorities and defining core values; and involving employees. However, more attention is needed in certain areas, including: (1) Performance Measurement: Leading organizations recognize that setting goals and measuring performance can create powerful incentives to influence organizational and individual behavior. USCIS has developed some draft performance measures for the transformed organization, but has not defined targets for the desired level of performance to be achieved, and many of the measures are ill-defined or difficult to evaluate. (2) Strategic Human Capital Management: USCIS' plans do not sufficiently address important elements of strategic workforce planning. For example, the agency's plans do not identify the skills and competencies needed in the transformed organization, outline a strategy to maintain ongoing coordination with the Office of Human Capital, or address past and present leadership fluctuations. In addition, while the TPO has established performance expectations for its own staff, it has not formally evaluated the performance of its staff against those expectations. Further, USCIS as a whole has not developed transformation-related performance expectations and competencies for its executives and employees to hold them accountable for achieving the goals of the transformation. (3) Communications: Creating an effective, ongoing strategy for communicating with employees and stakeholders is critical to the success of any organizational transformation. USCIS has made efforts to communicate information about the transformation to its employees and stakeholders, and has developed an overall communication strategy. However, this strategy does not contain a clearly defined plan to conduct outreach beyond the current fiscal year, and lacks a detailed approach for targeting communications to individual government partners and stakeholders. (4) Information Technology (IT) Management: It is important that USCIS acquire IT systems and services in a way that employs leading IT management practices, such as those embodied in federal guidance that we and others have issued relative to enterprise architecture management, IT systems development and acquisition, and IT services acquisition. USCIS is early in the process of developing its own enterprise architecture. However, USCIS' plans do not include a performance element, an important architectural component. Moreover, while the agency is following DHS' procedures to align the transformation with DHS' enterprise architecture, we have previously reported that these procedures are not sufficient, and that DHS' enterprise architecture is not complete. USCIS plans provide some information on transformation costs and revenues, but USCIS has not finalized its acquisition strategy and therefore cost estimates remain uncertain. In addition, the plans do not sufficiently discuss enterprise architecture alignment and expected project performance. USCIS is in the very early stages of its transformation and its plans for transformation reflect at least partially most of the practices associated with successful organizational transformations. However, the gaps we have identified in USCIS' plans create risks that could undermine its success as it begins to implement its plans.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to document specific performance measures and targets for the pilots, increments, and the transformed organization that are outcome-oriented, objective, reliable, balanced, limited to the vital-few, measurable, and aligned with organizational goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2011, USCIS finalized a balanced set of four performance measures and established fiscal year 2012 targets that align with transformation goals for customer satisfaction, decisional accuracy, timeliness, and efficiency.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to increase USCIS' focus on strategic human capital management for the transformation, including increasing coordination between TPO and the Office of Human Capital (OHC) to ensure transformation and human capital change initiatives are aligned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Office of Transformation Coordination (OTC) indicated in August 2010 that it had established regular meetings with the Chief Learning Officer to address training-related transformation issues. The OTC also increased its coordination with Human Capital and Training (HC&T). HC&T subject experts have helped OTC with a series of activities to determine the people requirements for the transformed environment, to select the system users, and to provide users with the support they needed to perform their work. This included activities such as cataloging the roles required to perform the transformed business processes; mapping these roles to current and new positions; and identifying training needs for each position.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to increase USCIS' focus on strategic human capital management for the transformation, including planning for the number and types of human resources required in TPO to carry the transformation through 2012.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2010, USCIS Transformation's approved staffing level was increased from 67 to 101. This staffing increase was intended to improve government oversight of the contract staff and activities that are required to design and build the first scheduled release while beginning work on the second release. As of June 2012, the number of authorized positions has been reduced to 94, of which 10 remain vacant for a vacancy rate of 11 percent. This is comparable to the vacancy rate of 8 percent for USCIS program offices and about 12 percent for the agency as a whole, as of April 2012.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to increase USCIS' focus on strategic human capital management for the transformation, including planning for obtaining and developing the IT human capital necessary to support the transformation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of July 2011, while vacancies still existed, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) had more than doubled its on-board staff since the time of our review. Further, OIT indicated that OIT supports the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service's (USCIS) transformation effort with dedicated staff and contractors as well as access to additional OIT staff and contractors on an as-needed basis. According to OIT, this posture allows OIT to maintain consistent coverage of base transformation needs while responding to ad-hoc or surge transformation needs without requiring substantial personnel overhead.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to increase USCIS' focus on strategic human capital management for the transformation, including determining the critical skills and competencies that will be needed to achieve future programmatic results as well as strategies to address gaps in employee numbers, deployment, and skills and competencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To address the skills needed, in November of 2010, the Solutions Architect for transformation developed the Release A Training Needs Assessment. The assessment provides an analysis of the types of skills needed to operate in a transformed environment and how the training will be developed and rolled out. In addition, as of May 2011, an Enterprise Training Plan had been updated for release A. The plan describes the systems and techniques for collecting training requirements, analyzing needs, and designing learning for the transformation. Also, as of June 2011, the Organizational Change Management and Policy Division within the Office of Transformation Coordination (OTC) had completed an analysis in which the roles that had identified as needed for the transformation were mapped to current positions to determine if any gaps in workforce capacity exist.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to increase USCIS' focus on strategic human capital management for the transformation, including addressing continuity in key transformation leadership positions and addressing impacts to time frames when key personnel leave.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of September 2011, all but one leadership position within the Office of Transformation Coordination (OTC) had been filled.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to increase USCIS' focus on strategic human capital management for the transformation, including using performance expectations and competencies to hold USCIS executives and employees accountable for achieving the goals of the transformation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2011, Office of Transformation Coordination officials indicated they were aware of plans to incorporate the transformation objectives into the individual performance agreements of US Citizenship and Immigration Service senior executives. These expectations would then cascade down to lower levels of leadership. In November 2011, USCIS put in place standardized supervisory goals for all supervisors that include expectations related to the transformation.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to continue to develop an enterprise architecture that sufficiently guides and constrains the transformation plans, as DHS works to address limitations in its own enterprise architecture and alignment processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2009, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) provided GAO with an Enterprise Architecture (EA) that describes: (1) target performance measures for business segments, (2) a business reference model that identifies enterprise segments, lines of business within each segment, and business functions for each line of business, and (3) a service reference model and SRM services. In addition, the architecture describes other key target EA elements: data objects, data assets, application/service components, infrastructure systems, and security services. Furthermore, the architecture describes USCIS current environment: fiscal year 2008 operational performance, mission essential functions, current workflows, organizational activities, work locations, a logical data model, and application systems, infrastructure topology, and information security issues. Moreover, the architecture describes some elements of a transition strategy for moving from the current to the target environment. For example, it stated that it performed a redundancy and gap analysis to identify systems with overlapping capabilities and provided a roadmap for achieving a secure environment. Beyond this important progress in addressing our recommendation, USCIS plans to take additional actions to improve its EA. In particular, it plans to further define its target business architecture by decomposing target business functions into workflows and activities, enhancing linkages between business activities and performance measures, validating the logical data model, identifying Department of Homeland Security security services that can be integrated into USCIS security environment, and developing the Citizenship segment of the EA. In addition, it plans to expand the EA to include non-mission functions, and to build out and update the transition strategy as refinements are made to the target architecture. As a result, USCIS has largely implemented our EA recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to complete a comprehensive communication strategy that involves communicating early and often to build trust, ensuring consistency of message, and encouraging two-way communication. Further, the communication strategy should address plans for communicating implementation goals and timelines to demonstrate progress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On July 31, 2009, the USCIS Transformation Program, Office of the Transformation Coordinator (OTC) released a Communications Plan, prepared by the Solutions Architect (SA). The plan addresses how USCIS will communicate transformation implementation goals and timelines to demonstrate progress. According to the plan, prior to the release of each segment of the new system, the SA will develop release-level communication plans, recognizing that each release will brings a new set of impacts that need to be strategically communicated to a specific set of stakeholders. In addition, an on-line information clearinghouse will be used to communicate information such as release schedules and frequently asked questions.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to complete a comprehensive communication strategy that involves communicating early and often to build trust, ensuring consistency of message, and encouraging two-way communication. Further, the communication strategy should address plans for formally engaging internal and external stakeholders throughout the transformation, and tailoring information to meet these stakeholders' specific needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On July 31, 2009, the USCIS Transformation Program, Office of the Transformation Coordinator (OTC) released a Communications Plan, prepared by the Solutions Architect (SA). The plan addresses how the TPO will formally engage internal and external stakeholders throughout the transformation and how it will tailor information to their different needs. For example, the plan outlines three outreach programs for USCIS's major stakeholder communities, defined as "Mission Support and Mission Delivery, Customers & Advocates, and Enterprise Partners." In addition to outreach programs, the plan calls for a dedicated "Stakeholder Care Manager" from the SA for each stakeholder community. Stakeholder Care Managers will maintain expertise in the stakeholder community they align with and will provide transformation office counterparts with a single point of contact for key activities associated with mission support, mission delivery, customers and advocates, and enterprise Partners.

    Recommendation: To improve its transformation strategy and fully address congressionally requested information, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Director of USCIS to complete a comprehensive communication strategy that involves communicating early and often to build trust, ensuring consistency of message, and encouraging two-way communication. Further, the communication strategy should address plans for a long-term, detailed strategy to share information with employees and stakeholders over the course of the transformation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On July 31, 2009, the USCIS Transformation Program, Office of the Transformation Coordinator (OTC) released a Communications Plan, prepared by the Solutions Architect (SA). The plan addresses how USCIS will communicate transformation implementation goals and timelines to demonstrate progress. According to the plan, prior to the release of each segment of the new system, the SA will be develop release-level communication plans, recognizing that each release will brings a new set of impacts that need to be strategically communicated to a specific set of stakeholders. For example, the plan describes the communication that needs to take place for each stakeholder group 9 months prior to a release, 6 months, 3 months, and so on.

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