Glenn A. Fine
U.S. Department of Justice
House Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
"Immigration and Naturalization Service
Enforcement and Service Performance Issues"
October 17, 2001
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Mr. Chairman, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, and Members of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims:
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims to discuss performance issues at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has conducted numerous audits, inspections, investigations, and special reviews of INS programs and personnel during the past 12 years that have revealed significant problems within the INS. While the causes for these deficiencies vary, taken together they paint a picture of an agency in need of reform. In this testimony, I plan to discuss several examples of our significant work in the INS that illustrate systemic deficiencies in the agency that must be addressed by any of the competing restructuring proposals.
Before I turn to the specific OIG reviews, however, let me offer several general observations about the INS that arise from this body of work. From the OIG's perspective, whether the INS is broken into two agencies - one focusing on enforcement and the other on service - or the agency remains intact with an internal restructuring, systemic problems need to be addressed if the INS is to effectively fulfill its critical responsibilities. In general terms, among the INS's most significant deficiencies are: (1) management weaknesses that affect program design and implementation; (2) information systems that are unreliable; (3) overlapping and unclear chains of command that hinder consistent enforcement of policies and procedures throughout the INS; and (4) a lack of individual and organizational accountability. I will briefly elaborate on each of these points before describing some of the OIG reviews that illustrate these problems.
The INS accounted for eight of the ten material weaknesses reported by the Department of Justice in its "FY 2000 Performance Report & FY 2002 Performance Plan." While two of the INS's material weaknesses were new to the report, the Department has cited other INS weaknesses, such as Detention Space and Infrastructure and Delivery Bonds, for more than ten years.
The INS is a huge and complex organization that needs strong leadership to articulate and implement a clear and consistent vision for the organization. In the past, the INS has been so buffeted by one controversy after another that crisis management has been its common management style.
District Directors oversee a myriad of functions ranging from benefits adjudication, to enforcement, to detention. Within the enforcement side of the INS, we have found duplicative units, such as separate anti-smuggling units in the Border Patrol and the Investigations Division that report through different chains of command. The Border Patrol and Investigations Division anti-smuggling units separately worked cases involving the same individuals without coordination or knowledge that this was occurring. These overlapping structures also can result in a significant disconnect between what INS Headquarters believes is occurring in the field and what actually happens.
I will now turn to brief summaries of some OIG reviews, in addition to the reviews I described last week, that illustrate these general observations.
First, in addition to the problems with its information technology systems that I described in my testimony last week, the INS has struggled for years with an antiquated core financial management system and various subsystems that are not integrated into an overall system.
While the INS has improved several aspects of its financial management over the past few years, it still has substantial problems that prevent it from effectively producing and using financial information in its day-to-day operations. Moreover, because of a critical shortage of qualified financial personnel, the INS is becoming increasingly dependent on contractor support in the financial management arena. We are concerned about the INS's reliance on contractors, because this is primarily a short-term fix instead of a systemic, long-term solution to the agency's financial management problems.
The INS received an unqualified opinion for FY 2000 on its balance sheet and a qualified opinion on its statements of net cost, changes in net position, budgetary resources, and financing. The qualification resulted because the INS did not know how many applications for immigration benefits it had waiting to be processed. Consequently, the INS could not determine what portion of fees collected was earned or unearned.
The INS had three material weaknesses and three reportable conditions in this most recent financial statement audit. The three material weaknesses were in the areas of deferred revenue (the issue that caused the qualification), financial management systems controls, and general controls on automated data processing systems.
The INS's FY 2000 audit opinion did represent an improvement over FY 1999 when the INS received a qualified opinion on all its financial statements because of inadequate records supporting both the number of pending applications and intra-governmental accounts payable. However, the INS had to expend a tremendous amount of personnel and money in a year-end effort to obtain this opinion. The most telling example of its lack of reliable, automated data was the comprehensive physical inventory conducted by the INS of its pending applications, which involved several preliminary test counts and a final year-end count of approximately two million applications. Production was shut down at several INS sites for more than a week while employees and contractors counted applications. The INS will need to continue performing these year-end manual counts until it can successfully implement an automated system that accurately tracks financial information on a regular basis, rather than rely on Herculean efforts at the end of the fiscal year to produce unqualified opinions.
A recent OIG audit of the INS's property management assessed the agency's controls for ensuring that its property is safeguarded against waste, loss, unauthorized use, and misappropriation. The INS's property inventory includes vehicles, computer equipment, communications equipment, firearms, and aircraft valued at more than $640 million.
We found that the INS: (1) could not account for approximately 61,000 items that cost $68.9 million (to be conservative, we stated our statistical projections at the lower bound; however, the upper bound could be as high as 81,700 property items with a total cost of $107.6 million); (2) failed to perform and document physical inventories; and (3) did not record the acquisition of all property in its automated database. The INS's internal audit program, INSpect, has consistently identified these and other related property accountability issues. Yet, the issues continue to exist because of an apparent lack of management resolve to correct deficiencies and to hold employees accountable.
In addition, the OIG found that the INS did not implement adequate controls over computer equipment that had data storage capabilities. Consequently, this property was vulnerable to loss or theft and, as a result, sensitive data stored in the machines could be compromised.
We also found troubling results when we analyzed the status of 539 weapons that had been identified by the INS as being lost, missing, or stolen. Specifically, INS staff did not routinely report the status of these weapons through proper channels and, as a result, did not initiate timely follow-up action to resolve each instance of an unaccounted-for weapon. We identified at least six instances in which INS weapons were linked to the commission of a crime and were subsequently recovered by local law enforcement agencies.
INS employees at the land border ports of entry collect fees for processing applications to replace alien registration cards, for waiver of passports and visas, and for nonimmigrant records of arrivals and departures. During an audit of cash-handling procedures at ports of entry along the southwest border, we identified serious control weaknesses in the INS's fee collection program. We found that cashiers could easily steal money before it is recorded in the cash register and conceal the loss by either failing to ring up the transaction or voiding the transaction after it had been rung up. Further, ports of entry staff responsible for handling fee monies was not held accountable for cash shortages, and managers could not account for many of the cash register tapes that documented thousands of transactions. As a result, these procedures left little or no audit trail and created an environment highly vulnerable to loss or theft.
We initiated this audit because two separate OIG investigations into the theft of fee monies at land ports of entry had identified significant discrepancies in the management controls over fee collections. We were concerned whether these discrepancies were indicative of more widespread internal control problems at land ports of entry. Generally, our audit confirmed that the controls and procedures in place allowed opportunities for loss or theft of fee monies without detection at each step in the fee collection process. Consequently, INS managers could not determine the total amount of fees that should have been collected based on the applications processed.
We concluded that the INS had no assurance that substantial losses have not occurred due to a lack of reconciliations between cash collected, cash register tapes, and applications adjudicated. In addition, we found that management oversight throughout the collection and deposit process was inadequate. In contrast to these overall results, we found that one INS manager, the Port Director at Laredo, Texas, had taken action as a result of a 1997 theft of fees at his port and consulted with local banks about how to improve cash-handling controls. Furthermore, he instituted procedures whereby cashiers personally would be held accountable for shortages due to errors or intentional subversions. However, managers at five other ports of entry in our review had not taken any such actions at the time of our audit.
We found that most of these conditions were previously identified in a 1995 OIG audit report on cash collections at ports of entry and had not been corrected. In response to recommendations in the 1995 report relating to improving internal controls, the INS Executive Associate Commissioner for Field Operations had assured the OIG that District Directors would be held responsible for maintaining adequate internal controls at the ports of entry. Despite this assurance, we found that these recommendations largely had not been implemented. Our recent review implicated both poor management controls and a lack of accountability for rectifying previously identified deficiencies.
The OIG reviewed the INS's practice of escorting criminal aliens on commercial airlines when the aliens are removed from the United States to non-border countries. In FY 1999 and FY 2000, the INS removed 139,000 criminal aliens of which the most dangerous segment totaled 30,000 aliens who had been involved in homicide, kidnapping, sexual offenses, robbery, assault, arson, extortion, and weapon offenses. Of the approximately 9,000 serious offenders from non-border countries, we estimated that 80 percent were removed by commercial airlines. Our review focused on this latter group of aliens.
We found that the INS was placing the traveling public at potential risk because it did not consistently follow its own escort policy. In three of the four districts we visited, INS supervisory field officials clearly disregarded provisions of the INS escort standard, resulting in the removal of violent aliens on commercial airlines without escorts or with less than the required number of escorts. In addition, the INS did not identify some dangerous aliens during the routine pre-removal alien file review process. Further, the INS escort standard failed to require escorts for certain types of aliens who may pose a danger to the public. Additionally, we found that the INS did not adequately coordinate the escort process with the Department of State. When we questioned INS field managers about the deficiencies, we received explanations such as lack of personnel resources, the need to save money, officer safety issues at destination countries, and lack of familiarity with the INS's escort policy. One of the most troubling responses was that full adherence to the escort policy was "not required." This response illustrates that the INS often does not provide the field with explicit implementing instructions and does not provide sufficient management oversight to ensure that its policies are implemented.
Concerned about the overall adequacy of inspection facilities at airports, the INS asked the OIG to review the adequacy of its inspection facilities at selected international airports. In 1998, the INS processed 39.7 million alien passengers through inspection facilities at about 150 airports. Together with other federal agencies, the INS approves the design of inspection facilities provided by individual airlines and airport authorities to prevent smuggling and illegal entry. The INS also designates which airports may receive international passengers and may withdraw such designations if suitable landing stations are not provided in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Act). We performed on-site reviews at 12 of the country's busiest international airports and surveyed INS staff about the conditions at 30 additional airports. These 42 airports accounted for 75 percent of international passengers processed through inspection facilities in FY 1998.
We found deficiencies at all 42 airports. Three airports - John F. Kennedy in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami - handled the largest number of passengers, and their inspection facilities needed some of the most extensive modifications. We found that many inspection facilities were badly designed and had faulty monitoring, surveillance, and communication systems. Hold rooms used to confine potentially inadmissible aliens were too small and did not permit separate confinement of male, female, and juvenile detainees. Thirteen airports had no hold rooms. As a result, the airports were vulnerable to illegal entry, escapes, injuries, health hazards, and the hiding or disposing of contraband or documents.
We concluded that these conditions existed mainly because the INS dealt ineffectively with airlines and airport authorities. By failing to enforce provisions of the Act, the INS undermined its ability to influence airlines and airport authorities to meet federal standards. We recommended that the INS reinforce airlines' and airport authorities' understanding of design and construction standards and apply sanctions permitted by the Act, where appropriate, at airports not providing suitable facilities. We concluded that the INS must hold the airlines accountable for inadequate inspection facilities in order to minimize the airport's vulnerabilities to illegal entry, escapes, injuries, health hazards, and the hiding or disposing of contraband or documents.
On August 31, 1995, the INS launched Citizenship U.S.A. (CUSA), a program designed to substantially reduce the backlog of pending naturalization applications in FY 1996. More than one million individuals were naturalized during the year the program was in operation.
By early summer 1996, allegations were raised about the integrity of the INS's naturalization processing, including allegations that applicants with disqualifying backgrounds had been naturalized. At the request of Congress and the Attorney General, the OIG investigated CUSA to determine whether the integrity of the naturalization process had been compromised and, if so, the reasons for the failures.
The OIG review found that the INS had compromised the integrity of naturalization adjudications as a result of its efforts to process applicants more quickly and meet a self-imposed goal of completing more than a million cases by the end of FY 1996. We found that the INS did not address known processing weaknesses before implementing a major program that would place significant new burdens on the system. Problems INS managers had identified before the CUSA program began included inconsistent application of adjudication criteria, such as good moral character and English language standards, widespread use of temporary files that necessarily meant that adjudicators were not reviewing an applicant's immigration history before making a determination about naturalization, and inadequate procedures for checking criminal histories and fingerprints. The OIG's comprehensive report detailed a series of critical management deficiencies at INS headquarters and INS field offices regarding the implementation of this program.
The detection, disruption, and dismantling of alien smuggling organizations are enforcement priorities for the INS. The INS's anti-smuggling strategy involves multiple components - international enforcement, border enforcement, and interior enforcement - and its Anti-Smuggling Units (ASUs) are an integral part of this strategy. Situated in approximately 35 sites throughout the continental United States, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, ASUs are located in Border Patrol operations as well as INS district office Investigations Divisions.
We examined ASUs to provide INS headquarters managers with a field perspective of how to improve their anti-smuggling program. To obtain that information, we surveyed all ASU supervisors and visited five ASUs, assessing issues such as the clarity of ASUs' mission and the level of coordination between ASUs and other INS entities.
Our survey found that ASUs believed that INS headquarters had not provided sufficient direction regarding the anti-smuggling strategy. Moreover, the location of ASUs both in INS district offices and in Border Patrol sectors requires ASUs to report to INS Headquarters through two separate chains of command. We found that coordination issues arise among ASUs, including when two ASUs unknowingly were working on the same case. In one example, the duplication of effort was discovered when two ASUs each submitted requests for approval of undercover investigations of the same smuggling operation. We recommended that the INS determine whether a single chain of command for the anti-smuggling program would be more effective and efficient than the current structure in which ASUs are located in both INS district offices and Border Patrol sectors.
Examples of other OIG reviews in the INS relevant to the topic of this hearing include:
The high delinquency rates of INS employees indicated that significant improvements were needed in the INS's administration of its travel charge card program. We recommended improvements in the following areas: (1) greater management support for and oversight of the travel charge card program; (2) more timely identification by the program coordinators of delinquencies and misuse and referral to cardholder supervisors, management, and investigative units for resolution; (3) stronger actions by management against those who misuse their credit cards or neglect to pay their bills; (4) stronger controls over access to travel cards and use of automated teller machines when a cardholder is not in travel status, and (5) better education of managers, supervisors, coordinators, and cardholders on their roles and responsibilities. It is axiomatic that the INS - like every other Department component - needs to hold its employees accountable to pay their expenses in a timely manner.
Overall, we found that SENTRI had led to lower commuter wait times for those using the SENTRI lane. In addition, no major border violations by SENTRI users had been reported at these sites. However, our review identifies funding shortfalls and a lack of long-range planning regarding SENRI. We found that the lack of planning has left critical issues unresolved, including whether SENTRI's sites along the southwest and northern borders would be integrated and whether the INS and Customs will establish SENTRI as a permanent program. We also found that the INS needed to develop a more comprehensive framework for objectively evaluating and selecting future SENTRI sites.
I understand that the Subcommittee plans to consider a variety of proposals to reorganize the INS, including a forthcoming proposal from Commissioner Ziglar to restructure the agency internally, H.R. 2680 introduced by Congresswoman Jackson Lee to create a National Immigration Bureau in the Department, and other proposals that would split the INS into separate enforcement and service agencies.
Let me make a few general observations about these proposals. First, I understand the reason behind the desire to separate the INS into two agencies focusing on distinct missions of enforcement and service. The OIG and this Committee through many hearings over the years have highlighted numerous problems within the INS as it struggled to address its varied tasks in its present unitary structure. Dividing the INS's responsibilities between two separate agencies would result in smaller enforcement and service agencies, each with a clearer, more focused mission.
However, separating the INS into two agencies might merely compound the deficiencies in the agency's management controls, systems, and accountability. A split also presents complex administrative issues such as the need to share information technology systems. Both enforcement and service agencies require access to many of the same INS databases, such as the Central Index System (CIS) and IDENT, and documents, such as A-files, and both interact and depend upon INS detention operations. In addition, prior OIG reviews have found that many of the problems we see in the INS reflect problems within the enforcement and service program areas. Breaking the INS into two agencies could potentially exacerbate coordination problems because of the common need for information technology and infrastructure resources across the new agencies.
In the end, the OIG believes that regardless of which restructuring plan is chosen, the systemic and underlying issues that we have identified in the INS - such as management failures, poor information technology systems, lack of individual and organizational accountability, and clear chains of command - must be addressed before any restructuring plan can succeed. None of the plans will work if these critical problems are not solved.
This completes my prepared statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions.