DHS Immigration Attorneys:

Workload Analysis and Workforce Planning Efforts Lack Data and Documentation

GAO-07-206: Published: Apr 17, 2007. Publicly Released: May 17, 2007.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Richard M. Stana
(202) 512-8816
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The legal staff of key Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components--Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)--perform important immigration enforcement, inspection, and service functions. This report addresses the actions ICE, USCIS, and CBP legal offices are taking to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staffing shortfalls. To conduct its work, GAO interviewed component senior legal office officials in headquarters and regional offices and reviewed available documentation on staffing.

GAO's prior work on strategic workforce planning states that staffing decisions should be based on valid and reliable data. However, ICE and USCIS's legal offices do not currently have such data available, though efforts are under way to obtain the data. Moreover, GAO's standards for internal controls in the federal government call for clear documentation, but none of the three legal offices have fully documented the processes, procedures, and data they use in their workforce planning decisions. ICE legal officials acknowledged that while an approach is in place for identifying attorney staffing needs, more data are needed to improve their attorney staffing decisions to help ensure that a sufficient number of attorneys are available to handle rising caseloads. ICE's legal office has relied primarily on its professional judgment to set a staffing ratio between attorneys and immigration judges. It also uses a workload system that tracks, for instance, the number of cases prepared. But attorney time, and other metrics, are not tracked. The legal office is working to incorporate these and other data into its existing system by December 2007. ICE's legal office has not yet fully documented its plans for enhancing its workload system by discussing how it intends to measure its progress or report the results of its efforts. Without such documentation, the office may not be able to effectively monitor its progress in meeting its goals related to this effort. Nor has the office documented its overall attorney workforce planning process, making it difficult for the office to validate its staffing decisions. USCIS officials acknowledged that its attorney workforce planning approach is based on estimates of workload data, such as the number of legal actions filed against USCIS, and that it is not possible to reliably determine attorney needs or anticipate shortfalls based on these estimates. Officials stated that DHS has not been in a position to support a request for additional attorneys for USCIS, because USCIS lacks sufficiently reliable data. These officials said that they coordinate with other USCIS offices to acquire additional legal resources. Efforts to implement a comprehensive workload system are to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2007, but the legal office has not yet documented its (1) plans for implementing this system describing goals, milestones, and other elements or (2) attorney workforce planning process. Thus, the office may not have reasonable assurance that its personnel are implementing workforce planning efforts as intended. CBP legal officials reported implementing a successful approach for assessing staffing needs by analyzing workload statistics, soliciting feedback from CBP program offices on their legal needs, and estimating the time attorneys need to complete their work. Using this method, the Chief Counsel said that the legal office has not experienced staffing shortfalls and has met rising workloads by obtaining funding to hire additional attorneys. However, CBP's legal office lacks documentation of its attorney staffing process, making it difficult to review and validate the success of its approach.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on actions that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's (USCIS) legal office took to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staff shortfalls. We reported, among other things, that USCIS's legal office had not documented policies and procedures that identify the staff responsible for managing staff shortfalls and for assessing its attorney needs, deploying its attorneys, and identifying shortfalls. We also reported that the legal office had not documented its approach for these staffing processes. Thus, we recommended that USCIS's legal office develop documentation that clearly describes its approach and the personnel responsible for conducting workforce planning efforts related to (1) using workforce data and other information related to time attorneys spend completing their work activities to develop needs assessments and deploy staffing resources where they are needed most, and (2) identifying and addressing staffing shortfalls to enhance accountability over staffing decisions. In August 2009, USCIS's legal office reported taking a number of actions to better address its workforce planning efforts, such as deploying a data management system to track and categorize activities conducted by USCIS attorneys including those related to federal court litigation and appeals of family based petition denials before the Board of Immigration Appeals, employment related disputes, and procurement advice, among others. In June 2011, USCIS's legal office issued a directive to establish procedures for its attorney allocation process. The directive describes the personnel responsible for the office's workforce planning efforts and the overall methodology, data, and requirements for documenting the factors considered in making staffing decisions. Thus, USCIS's legal office is better positioned to provide reasonable assurance that its staffing processes will be sustained over time given that is now has an institutional record in the event of staffing changes.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to USCIS's Office of Chief Counsel, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to develop documentation that clearly describes its approach and the personnel responsible for conducting workforce planning efforts related to (1) using workforce data and other information related to time attorneys spend completing their work activities to develop needs assessments and deploy staffing resources where they are needed most, and (2) identifying and addressing staffing shortfalls to enhance accountability over staffing decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on actions that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's (USCIS) legal office took to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staff shortfalls. We reported, among other things, that USCIS's legal office had not documented its plans for implementing a workforce data management system. As a result, we recommended that USCIS document its plans for implementing this system to clearly explain the goals of such an effort, major milestones, work tasks and products, and the associated schedules and resources for achieving them, as well as performance measures and reporting mechanisms associated with the effort. On September 14, 2007, USCIS reported that it had fully implemented the office's workforce data management system and that while it did not develop any specific formal planning documentation during the implementation of this data management system, it will document plans to address any significant revisions to the system in the future.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to USCIS's Office of Chief Counsel, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to document the office's plans for implementing a workforce data management system that clearly explains the goals of such an effort, major milestones, work tasks and products and the associated schedules and resources for achieving them, as well as performance measures and reporting mechanisms associated with the effort.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on actions that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) legal office took to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staff shortfalls. We reported, among other things, that ICE's legal office had not documented its methodology or the role of its staff responsible for determining its attorney needs, identifying and addressing related shortfalls, or deploying attorneys where they are needed. As a result, we recommended that ICE's Office of the Principal Legal Advisor develop documentation that clearly defines it methodology for conducting workforce planning efforts, the personnel responsible for conducting such efforts to enhance accountability, and its rationale for making staffing decisions, including any factors it considered in making those decisions. In February 2011, ICE's Principal Legal Advisor issued a directive to establish procedures for its attorney allocation process. The directive describes the personnel responsible for the office's workforce planning efforts and the overall methodology, data, and requirements for documenting the factors considered in making staffing decisions. Thus, ICE's legal office is better positioned to provide assurance that its staffing processes will be sustained over time, given that it now has an institutional record in the event of staffing changes.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to ICE's Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to develop documentation that clearly defines its methodology for conducting workforce planning efforts, the personnel responsible for conducting such efforts to enhance accountability, and its rationale for making staffing decisions, including any factors it considered in making those decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Prior to sending our draft report to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for comment, we reviewed documents related to planned enhancements the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office (ICE) of the Principal Legal Advisor had underway related to its General Counsel Electronic Management System (GEMS). At that time, these documents did not contain information on how ICE planned to measure its progress in making enhancements to GEMS or how ICE planned to report on the results of its efforts to enhance the system. After we provided our draft report to DHS for comment, ICE's legal office drafted a task order to contract with a software developer to assist in making enhancements to GEMS. As part of this task order, the legal office included a listing of key milestones for system enhancements. The legal office also included documentation in this task order that clearly articulates how, when, and to whom a status report on the results of efforts to enhance the system should be communicated. These actions address the intent of the recommendation and will assist ICE's legal office in effectively monitoring its progress in meeting its goals related to this effort and in obtaining reasonable assurance that its enhancements are being implemented as intended.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to ICE's Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to document an implementation plan for measuring progress in making enhancements to the General Counsel Electronic Management System and to report on the results of efforts to enhance the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on actions that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) legal office took to identify attorney needs, determine where those attorneys should be deployed, and address staff shortfalls. We reported, among other things, that CBP's legal office does not have any written policies and procedures that describe the criteria, methodology, analyses, data, and staff responsible for assessing its attorney needs, determining where to deploy its attorneys, and anticipating and addressing staffing shortfalls before they occur. As a result, we recommended that CBP's legal office develop documentation that clearly describes its criteria, methodology, analysis, data, and the personnel responsible for workforce planning efforts related to (1) using workforce data and other information related to time attorneys spend completing their work activities to develop needs assessments and deploy staffing resources where they are needed most, and (2) anticipating or addressing staffing shortfalls to enhance accountability over staffing decisions. In May 2008, CBP's legal office issued a directive to establish procedures for its attorney allocation process. The directive described the personnel responsible for the office's workforce planning efforts and generally described the overall methodology, data, and criteria to use in such efforts. However, it was missing key elements such as the type of analysis its personnel should conduct related to workforce planning. After we communicated with CBP's legal office regarding these missing elements, in August 2009, the legal office modified and reissued the directive to include these elements. Specifically, the directive instructs CBP's legal office personnel to, among other things, examine the number of cases opened, the number of cases closed, and case type by attorney and office location in making its recommendations related to workforce planning. Thus, CBP's legal office is better positioned to sustain workforce planning procedures over time given that it has an institutional record in the event of staffing changes.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the workforce planning efforts needed to achieve the legal offices' goals with respect to CBP's Office of Chief Counsel, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the General Counsel to develop documentation that clearly describes its criteria, methodology, analysis, data, and the personnel responsible for workforce planning efforts related to (1) using workforce data and other information related to time attorneys spend completing their work activities to develop needs assessments and deploy staffing resources where they are needed most, and (2) anticipating or addressing staffing shortfalls to enhance accountability over staffing decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 2, 2014

Jul 15, 2014

Jun 6, 2014

May 8, 2014

Apr 9, 2014

Mar 4, 2014

Jan 29, 2014

Jul 18, 2013

Jul 8, 2013

Apr 16, 2013

Looking for more? Browse all our products here