Competitive sourcing leads to new immigration management initiative

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) has decided to upgrade is processing systems and used competitive sourcing to find a contractor. Despite attempts this summer by federal unions to limit the use of public-private contractors and a lack of clarity about if, or how much, the upcoming Obama administration might scale back federal competitive sourcing, the USCIS launched a major overhaul of America’s immigration services management last week. IBM was given a five-year, $500 million contract to reinvent how the government handles about seven million applications each year for visas, citizenship and approval to work in the United States. Here’s the story from the Washington Post:

International Business Machines Corp. was selected over rivals CSC and Accenture to serve as a “solutions architect” for the $2.6 billion-a-year agency, which employs 10,700 government workers and 8,000 contractors at 200 locations nationwide. The contract, awarded this week and the largest federal homeland security bid on the market, includes a $14.5 million, 90-day assessment period with options over five years worth $491.1 million. Government investigators have reported that the agency’s pre-computer-age paper filing system incurs $100 million a year in archiving, storage, retrieval and shipping costs; has led to the loss or misplacement of more than 100,000 files; and has contributed to backlogs and delays for millions of cases. Modernization efforts, proposed in 1999, have been delayed by funding problems, inertia, post-Sept. 11 security demands and reorganization triggered by the creation of the Homeland Security Department. The department’s inspector general in 2007 faulted the agency for being “entrenched in a cycle of continual planning, with little progress.”

Wisely realizing that outsourcing rarely works without a well structured contract, analysts said USCIS has been working carefully over the past few years in structuring the project in such a way that it avoids some of the flaws that have derailed other major Homeland Security contracts including SBInet (an initiative with Boeing to build a “virtual” border fence using surveillance technology), and Deepwater (the Coast Guard’s massive fleet-replacement effort with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman).