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Immigration and Naturalization Service's Premium Processing Program
Report No. 03-14
Office of the Inspector General
INS RESPONSE TO THE DRAFT REPORT
I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the subject draft report and solicited input from the senior management official who is most significantly impacted -- the Executive Associate Commissioner for Field Operations. I reviewed the response and concur with the conclusions and observations.
The Executive Associate Commissioner for Field Operations has given a detailed explanation for our non-concurrence with recommendation 5 and the "concur-in-part" for three other recommendations. A detailed assessment of your findings related to the audit objectives is also attached. While these comments were not requested, I feel that this assessment is pertinent and should be included with our response to your report.
If you have any questions, please contact Kathleen Stanley, Audit Liaison, at (202) 514-8800.
cc: Vickie L. Sloan, DOJ Audit Liaison
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Premium Processing Program (PPP) was designed and implmented to enable businesses to secure expeditiously vital human resources while also providing the INS with an additional source of revenue to improve our adjudications infrastructure and operations. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in its recent report accessing the PPP focused to a large extent on the INS’ use of the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS), one critical though relatively minor aspect of the overall PPP. The OIG ultimately concluded that the PPP has impacted adversely the processing times for other INS applications, and suggested that the INS has not managed properly this new and important program.
Respecting the OIG’s considerable work and commitment to effective government programs, the INS nonetheless maintains that the PPP is a successful initiative. It has delivered a notable, long sought after service to its targeted audience while preserving the INS’ normal adjudication processes. Contrary to the OIG’s conclusion, the INS believes that the time required to adjudicate routine applications and petitions has not been adversely affected by the PPP. First, the INS initially hired several dedicated full time equivalent staff (FTEs) for the PPP. Second, during the past approximately 18 months, many intervening factors played a role in determining the speed with which the INS could process all applications. Clearly the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and the consequent mandate that the INS more closely scrutinize all applications and petitions, including the use of the IBIS, provide two cogent examples. Neither was the INS able to anticipate the huge influx of petitions submitted as a result of certain temporary protected status (TPS) designations, as well as the increase in naturalization filings given current events. On page 18 of the report, the OIG identified some of these many reasons while discussing the backlog of non-Premium Processing Forms I-129.
In addition, the INS believes that the OIG’s report contains other inaccuracies or misleading information concerning adjudications processes. These are set forth in greater detail in the following INS response to the OIG recommendations.
RECOMMENDATION 1: Strengthen internal communication to ensure that all service centers and district offices are fully informed of policy and/or procedural changes that will affect adjudication practices before those changes become effective.
INS RESPONSE: Concur. The INS has an initiative to develop and deploy an impressive Knowledge Management System to improve our internal communications and support timely and accurate processing of applications and petitions. This indexed electronic database will consolidate INS information while also providing consistency and quick access, nationwide, to information used or requested by those involved in adjudication processes. The system will also permit timely revisions and updates concerning INS policies, procedures, regulations, and best practices. Immediate action on this recommendation requires that Headquarters provide advance notice through the written and verbal distribution of relevant materials. The Immigration Services Division (ISD) is prepared to engage in this form of immediate action. ISD is likewise well equipped to do so as the internet Powerport site includes an ample bulletin board function capable of reaching a wide range of users and linking to new web content;
The point of contact for this response in ISD is Bert Rizzo, 202-307-8996.
RECOMMENDATION 2: Ensure that the excess program revenues, not used for adjudication processing and fraud investigation, are utilized for backlog reduction efforts.
INS RESPONSE: Concur in Part: The INS agrees with the OIG that it is unable to directly link the expenditure of Immigration Examination Fee Account funds to the specific application, petition or premium fee revenue source. Fee revenue is, however, separately tracked for purposes of statistical analyses and accounting. When funds are allocated to the INS operating units to support day-to-day operations, the specific source of the revenue provided is not tracked. All fee revenues once deposited are consolidated within the Exams Fee Account, and their original link to a specific application or petition is lost. The only way the INS could specifically tie the premium process revenue to the program expenditure would be for Congress to establish a new fee account and mandate the deposit of premium fees into such account. In approving the establishment of the INS Premium Processing Program in FY 2001, Congress did not choose to establish a new fee account; rather it specifically authorized the INS to expend the premium fee revenue from within the existing Exams Fee Account to support, (1) the premium program itself, (2) enhanced backlog elimination and anti-fraud efforts, and, (3) increased investment in infrastructure needs. The FY 2001 budget authorized expenditure of $80 million in premium revenue with $25million to be used to hire additional staff to process premium process cases and target high-risk form types for anti-fraud reviews, $20 million to support backlog reduction and processing, and $35 million for general infrastructure improvements.
Although unable to specifically show through its financial systems that program expenditures for backlog reduction are being funded by the premium fee revenue, the INS does believe that through its specific tracking of premium fee revenues, its use of an annual Operating Plan, and its yearly workload and staffing updates that it is able to ensure that the appropriate portion of the premium processing revenues are being used to reduce INS’ adjudications backlogs.
The point of contact in ISD is Joseph Moore, 202-307-6219.
RECOMMENDATION 3: Accumulate statistical data for Premium Processing by adding a separate category in the INS work measurement databases.
INS RESPONSE: Concur in Part: The INS agrees that it should strive to improve the integrity of the data collected to manage the Premium Processing Program. INS has made provisions to track premium processing within the Performance Analysis System (PAS) beginning in FY 2004. The INS does not agree, however, that PAS is the best mechanism to implement this improvement. As a secondary system dependent on “the various reporting systems from the individual service centers,” PAS does not provide a consistent methodology, or accurate, standardized reporting and program analyses called for by the 01G. The ISD is developing a new primary system that will incorporate the automatic collection of performance management data. We expect this initiative to eliminate the need for secondary collection systems like the PAS. In the interim, the INS through the ISD’s Office of Quality and Performance Management will continue to analyze the sources cited by the OIG to provide management officials with vital information to properly allocate resources. Please refer to the response to recommendation 4 below for additional information on INS’ methodology for the allocation of resources.
The point of contact in ISD is Joseph Moore, 202-307-6219.
RECOMMENDATION 4: Conduct a comprehensive time and motion study to determine appropriate unit costs for processing premium cases in order to ensure that the service centers have, adequate staff and resources to meet the added demands associated with Premium Processing.
INS RESPONSE: Concur in Part: The INS acknowledges that additional customer service features have been added to the adjudication process to support the PPP. However, we do not recognize the need for a formal independent study isolating the PPP to determine unit costs per adjudication. The Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriation Act, 1989 (Public Law 100-459) authorizes the INS to prescribe and collect fees to recover the cost of providing certain immigration adjudication and naturalization services. At the same time, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-576) Section 205(a)(8)requires each agency’s CFO to “review, on a biennial basis, the fee, royalties, rents, and other charges imposed by the agency for services and things of value it provides...”
The INS employs an activity based cost (ABC) methodology to determine the cost of immigration adjudications and naturalization services for which we charge fees. The ABC methodology allows the INS to identify the total cost of adjudicating the Petition for NonImmigrant Worker (Form I-129) form(s). Because the INS does not perform a separate ABC fee study for each individual application, it is not feasible to conduct a formal study to specifically determine the unit cost of processing premium cases. When the INS next conducts a biennial fee study in FY2005, it will in any event consider the cost implications of providing enhanced customer service activities, such as dedicated phone lines, e-mail addresses and more direct communications with customers by INS personnel to applicants filing for premium service, Should the fee study indicate a different cost for processing premium service cases vs. normal applications, the INS would advise the Congress of any adjustment needed through legislation.
In FY200I, when the INS first began to implement the PPP, a total of 136 adjudications positions were allocated to four INS Service Centers. Because no increased case workload resulted from the offering of this expedited service, the positions were actually added to address the non-processing needs of the program. As noted in the Draft Audit Report1 the INS processed 136,416 premium service petitions from June 2001 through September 2002. During this same period, we processed only 129 refund requests due to the INS’ failure to complete processing within the guaranteed 15-day period. This represents a 99.8% success rate and clearly demonstrates that the INS is achieving its program goals for the expedited processing of employment-based petitions and applications. In this vein, the INS conducts a comprehensive workload and staffing analysis twice per year to determine necessary staff resources and distribution., INS believes that the ISD has assigned adequate staff and other resources to meet the needs of the PPP as well as other adjudications foci, and that a formal study is not required.
The point of contact for this response in ISD is Joseph Moore, 202-307-6219.
RECOMMENDATION 5: Conduct an analysis of the $1,000 premium to ensure that the allocations for processing applications, fraud investigations, backlog reduction, and infrastructure improvements are completed as approved by Congress.
INS RESPONSE: Non-concur: The INS does not concur that a formal analysis of the $1,000 PPP fee is necessary to ensure revenues are allocated as mandated. The INS specifically established a unique two-digit appropriation code (XW) to facilitate the recording and tracking of deposits made relating to the $1,000 premium fee. INS Service Centers identify the XW appropriation code on all premium processing deposit slips forwarded to the INS Debt Management Center (DMC) for processing, where the data is entered into the INS’ Federal Financial Management System (FFMS). It is the special appropriation code that allows the INS to separately track and record the premium processing revenue from all other adjudication and naturalization application and petition revenues that are received.
The ISD prepares, in coordination with the INS Budget Office, an annual Operating Plan that identifies the specific program activities to be funded and pursued for the year. The Operating Plan provides resource managers and executive level staff with key information to guide their allocation and management of agency resources. Again, the INS utilizes a unique appropriation code to specifically track and account for the premium fee revenues separate from all other deposits within the Examinations Fee Account. This is reinforced insofar as the INS Operating Plan includes documentation of approved program and project spending. For all of these reasons, the INS does not believe that conducting a formal analysis of the premium fee is necessary or potentially productive to ensure that revenues are being allocated as legally mandated. Rather, the Operating Plan provides the necessary linkage of fees to program and project allocations.
Alternatively, the INS proposes to modify its Operating Plan to isolate through a specific column, the planned program and project spending associated with the premium fee revenues approved by Congress in its annual appropriations bill.
Finally, the INS understands this recommendation to raise an execution or accountability issue as opposed to one concerning an allocation. Premium processing revenues are deposited into the Immigration Examinations Fee Account. INS maintains that as long as these fluids are used to deliver the specific services promised to Congress in exchange for the resources, the agency’s legal obligation is satisfied.
The point of contact for this response in ISD is Joseph Moore, 202-307-6219.
Attachment to the Memorandum on the OIG Report - Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Premium Processing Program
The Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division, completed an audit of the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) Premium Processing program. The audit focused on determining if: (1) the INS was achieving the program goals for the expedited processing of employment-based petitions and applications; (2) the processing times for similar routine petitions and applications changed significantly after the implementation of the Premium Processing program; and (3) the implementation of the mandated Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) check procedures impacted the Premium Processing program.
In the draft audit report on the Premium Processing program, the Inspector General makes the following findings related to the three focus areas of the audit:
Is the INS achieving the program goals for the expedited processing of employment-based petitions and applications?
The goal of the Premium Processing program is for INS to process employment-based petitions and applications in 15 calendar days or less on payment of a $1000 fee. To date, INS has designated only certain Forms I-129 for the Premium Processing program. Under the program, if INS does not meet the 15-day requirement, it must refund the $1000 fee.
The draft audit report does not explicitly state whether INS is achieving the goal of processing Premium Processing petitions in 15 days or less. However, on page 20 of the draft report, the Inspector General finds that INS has had to refund only 129 fees for failure to meet the 15-day requirement. These refunds relate to less that 0.2 percent of all Premium Processing petitions filed with INS during the entire program. Therefore, INS concludes that the Inspector General finds that it is achieving the Premium Processing goal for expedite processing.
Have the processing times for similar routine petitions and applications changed significantly after the implementation of the Premium Processing program?
The Inspector General finds that the processing times for similar routine petitions have increased dramatically since implementation of the Premium Processing program. However, INS believes the Inspector General relied on an inappropriate measurement of processing time to reach this finding.
The Inspector General relied on data derived from service center management data of processing dates to measure application processing times. These data simply provide a snap shot of service center operations for a particular date. The INS does not use these data to measure processing time. Rather, INS measures application processing time using official data derived from its Performance Analysis System.
The INS’ official measurement of processing time calculates the rate at which INS is currently processing applications and is called Projected Processing Time. The INS calculates Projected Processing Time by dividing the average of the past 12 months of actual application completions into the pending volume of applications. The INS has adopted this measurement for processing time because it reliably estimates how long it will take INS to complete newly filed applications. The following table displays Projected Processing Time for Form I-129 since implementation of the Premium Processing program.
Based on the official measurement of processing time, INS has maintained processing times of between one and two months for routine petitions since implementation of the Premium Processing program. Moreover, INS achieved its first year backlog reduction target for Form I-129 by achieving Projected Processing Time of two months at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2002. Therefore, INS disputes the Inspector General’s finding that the processing times for similar routine petitions have increased dramatically since implementation of the Premium Processing program.
Did implementation of the mandated IBIS check procedures affect the Premium Processing program?
The draft audit report does not specifically state whether the mandated IBIS check procedures affect the Premium Processing program. However, the Inspector General does find that the mandated IBIS checks were a procedural change and that impacts on both premium and routine petitions can be expected whenever procedural changes are put into place. Furthermore, the Inspector General finds that implementation of the IBIS check procedures caused processing times for routine petitions to increase.
The INS does not dispute that the implementation of IBIS check procedures affected processing times for all applications and petitions. For this reason, INS conducted an analysis of the impact of the IBIS check procedures that resulted in proposals for fee and staff increases to ensure proper support of application and petition processing. However, publication of the rule in the Federal Register necessary to implement the fee increase is currently pending with the Department of Justice and Congressional reprogramming approval necessary to authorize staff increases has recently been submitted to Congress for consideration.
In addition, on page 20 of the draft report, the Inspector General finds that refunds of Premium Processing fees have increased eight-fold since implementation of the IBIS check procedures and suggests that this increase is attributable to the procedural change. However, because the 13 cases refunded prior to the implementation of IBIS checks represented .02% of the volume, almost any increase after the initial overwhelming success of the program would appear large. The 116 refunds made after the implementation of IBIS represent .15%of the volume. Because the numbers are so small this change cannot be construed to be a statistically significant trend. It does highlight the high preparedness and training level at the inception of the program, however.
In planning and performing the audit, the Inspector General also considered the INS’ management controls of the Premium Processing program to determine audit procedures. The Inspector General did not note any matters considered reportable conditions under government. auditing standards. However, the Office of the Inspector General made statements relating to perceived management weaknesses that, in their judgement, could adversely affect the INS’ ability to achieve the legislatively mandated time requirement of the Premium Processing Program. The Inspector General also made five recommendations relating to these perceived management weaknesses. The INS would like to take this opportunity to respond to these statements and recommendations.
The Inspector General’s draft audit report does not express an opinion on the INS’ management control structure. The Inspector General intends these statements on perceived management weaknesses to be used solely for the information and use of INS in managing the Premium Processing program.
Statement 1: The INS service centers failed to implement IBIS checks in a timely manner and that failure resulted in 11,830 premium processing petitions and 375,766routine petitions being adjudicated without being checked against the IBIS database between January and March 2002.
Response: There were many stages of implementation of IBIS checks in the adjudication process. Full implementation of IBIS checks for all applications and petitions at service centers while a useful step in the Country’s war on terrorism, was not a critical step in the use of IBIS by the INS. The Inspections Program has utilized the IBIS process for years and the Department of State (DOS) visa issuing process has also provided a check of databases during its screening process. Currently, the INS and DOS perform IBIS checks at visa application, port of entry application for admission, application submission, and adjudication of application (if more than 35 days following submission). These multiple checks of the same individual provide many opportunities for the identification of problem individuals and are not hampered by failure of any individual check in the entire process.
Statement 2: The INS failed to meet its goal of reducing the servicewide backlog for all petitions. The Inspector General’s analysis found that the backlog has increased steadily since the second quarter of 2002.
Response: The attached graph illustrates INS backlogs as represented by the Projected Processing Times (calculated by dividing the average of the past 12 months of completions by the current pending) for the twelve form types that make up 95%of INS’ workload. It can be seen that since the inception of the premium processing program, as well as since the beginning of the latest backlog reduction plan in October of 2001 most form types’ backlogs have actually decreased while others have increased very slightly. Since the second quarter of 2002 most forms have experienced a very slight increase. This was during the period when IBIS, SEVIS, NSEERS, and the special alien registration programs were put into effect. At the end of FY 2002 the INS met its own backlog reduction goals for forms I-129, I-539, I-751, and N-600/643.
Statement 3: The Premium Processing program oversight is weak. Premium Processing applications and related statistical data are not separately identified in the national adjudications statistics. Furthermore, INS did not conduct formal analyses to determine the added costs associated with the Premium Processing program or the justification of the $1,000 premium.
Response: See responses to Recommendations 3, 4, and 5 in the cover memorandum..