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The GAO Misses Opportunity and Issues Flawed Report

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 02022259 (posted Feb. 22, 2002)"

AILA STATEMENT OF THE AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAWYERS ASSOCIATION

The GAO Misses Opportunity and Issues Flawed Report

The General Accounting Office recently issued a report, Immigration Benefit Fraud:  Focused Approach Is Needed to Address Problems.   GAO undertook this investigation at the request of Representatives James Sensenbrenner (R-WS) and George Gekas (R-PA).  They asked the agency to review information on the nature and extent of immigration benefit fraud at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). 

There is no place in the INS or in any agency for fraud.  Immigration benefit fraud threatens the integrity of the legal immigration system.  It cannot and should not be tolerated. Like the GAO, many, with reason, have found fault with INS management. Certainly, there is much room for improvement, with the INS needing to undertake reforms that will make the agency effective, efficient, and fair.  The Administration’s INS reorganization plan is a step in the right direction, and will address many of the concerns the GAO raises.

We all want an agency that works, and works well. However, any investigation of fraud must be conducted fairly and use methods that are above question. Based on these criteria, the GAO has failed.  Its report presents opinions as facts, makes no attempt to corroborate allegations raised, and portrays the INS’s successful efforts at fraud detection as examples of a broken system. In fact, the report really is two reports: one reporting on alleged fraud based on uncorroborated opinions, and the other focusing on changes in procedures that would be beneficial for any agency.   

  • The report repeatedly cites opinion as fact and appears to fault the INS when the agency successfully detects fraud, suggesting that, because the agency has found fraud, such fraud is pervasivePhrases such as “one official told us,” “views of INS officials,”  “district officials told us” and similar attributions are repeated throughout the report, with anecdotal data treated not only as fact, but as pervasive fact. In addition, when citing to various instances of fraud throughout the report, the GAO, instead of crediting the INS for having mechanisms in place that have been successful in uncovering such fraud, criticizes the agency for the existence of the problem.  The GAO could have concluded instead that current INS procedures to detect fraud are, indeed, working.  At the very least, these procedures are not as ineffective as the GAO alleges them to be. Finally, the report’s tone and conclusions do not reflect what the GAO itself admits, that the “estimates provided by INS supervisors and managers were not based on scientific studies.”  

The GAO has raised serious charges.  Such charges need to be based on fact, not allegations or conjecture.  There is room for improvement in any agency, especially the INS, but any successful reform must be guided by accurate data. 

 

  • The GAO report reinforces the need for an INS headed by someone with clout and a reorganized agency that coordinates the two functions of enforcement and adjudications.  While not focusing extensively on INS reorganization, the GAO emphasizes the importance of coordination in a reorganized agency that separates the enforcement from the adjudications function:  “Organizational crosswalks would need to be devised to assure that the two primary functions were still being effectively coordinated and balanced, that is that the enforcement concerns were considered in performing service functions and vice versa. Our intention is that these primary functions be coordinated and balanced, regardless of how the agency is structured.”  The agency’s recommendations also support the need for one person at the top who has the authority to coordinate all activities and goals.  Such coordination achieved both through the person in charge and through the structure of the reorganized agency is critical throughout the INS.

 

  • Importance of Adequate Funding for Adjudications:  The GAO report was silent on one of the most critical issues needing to be addressed:  the importance of adequate funding for the INS in general, and adjudications in particular. While the GAO criticizes the agency for doing too little to combat immigration benefit fraud, the Service has not received adequate funding to undertake this task in a comprehensive and effective manner. Especially in this time of enhanced security, the INS needs the funding and technology that are critical for the agency to do a good job. The report also raises concerns about the INS’s ability to balance its dual responsibilities of application processing and fraud detection, and states that “unless INS can devote additional resources to processing applications, its efforts to expedite application processing will mean that the quality of adjudication will most likely be sacrificed.”  Again, the most effective response to this concern is adequately funding the agency so that the competing goals of quality and timeliness can be achieved. Such funding must come from direct congressional appropriations that would supplement user fees.

 

  • Importance of Enterprise Architecture and Information Technology:  The GAO report recognizes the importance of agency-wide case tracking, information technology, and management capability to help ensure the effective use of resources, and that necessary coordination occurs and accurate immigration benefit decisions are made in a timely manner. The INS, recognizing that the agency could achieve these goals through enterprise architecture and information sharing, was moving in those directions even before September 11.  Since that date, the Service has accelerated work in those areas, which will help ensure the quality of adjudications as well as enhance our security efforts.  Once again, adequate funding will be critical to the ability of the Service to develop and implement the needed improvements.
 
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