EDITORIAL: Digitization of immigration system another federal disaster

The federal government has been working for a decade to replace its overloaded, antiquated, paper-based immigration management system with an updated, electronic system. The project was supposed to be finished in 2013 at a cost of $500 million. Guess how that went?

It’s now projected to take about four additional years and more than $3 billion to complete.

Just like the bungled rollout of Obamacare, this failure by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services serves as yet another reminder of the staggering incompetence and dysfunction that rules Washington.

According to a recent investigation by The Washington Post, the immigration initiative was mismanaged from the very start. USCIS officials had failed to complete basic plans for the new computer system nearly three years after IBM was awarded the initial $500 million contract. And that system was outdated before work on it even began.

Going back to 2012, officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes USCIS, knew the project had hundreds of critical software (and other) problems, but decided to roll it out anyway, in part due to pressure from the Obama administration, which viewed the system as a big part of its plans to reform the nation’s immigration policies.

Sound familiar?

More than ten years — and more than $1 billion — into this process, the USCIS continues to face difficulty in handling immigrants seeking citizenship and detecting national security threats. Only three of the agency’s numerous immigration forms have been digitized — and two of those had to be scrapped shortly after launch due to software and hardware flaws associated with the previous system. Nearly 100 forms still must be filed on paper. The lone electronic form remaining is supposed to allow applicants to renew or replace a lost “green card,” but government records show that scores of immigrants who applied online waited up to a year to get their cards — or never got them at all — which has seriously hampered their travel, work and education plans.

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to make health insurance better, more affordable and easier to buy. Not only has it failed to deliver in any of those areas, but the website Americans use to sign up for Obamacare has been plagued with problems and crashes. The new USCIS system has been similarly disastrous.

Imagine if e-commerce moved as slowly and inefficiently as the federal government in getting paperwork digitized and websites up and working properly. We’d still be ordering from Sears catalogs.

As you consider who to vote for in the next election, remember these boondoggles when any of the candidates try to convince you that Washington needs more money.

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