Online filing for N-400 is not going well

Says Inspector General

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After harsh report, citizenship office says it’s taking ELIS challenges very seriously

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wants you to know that it is not taking this lightly.

After the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General issued another report critical of efforts to modernize the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS), USCIS has been working to express a strong commitment to doing better.

“USCIS agrees that implementing an online filing and case management system remains an essential 21st century application,” the agency told FedScoop in an email. This particular IG report, released Nov. 30, declared that USCIS’s attempts to automate the N-400 naturalization form have “not been successful.”

The agency handles more than 80,000 of the forms per month. The online N-400 form went live in April 2016 to great hopes that it would help streamline the application process. Deployment wasn’t particularly smooth sailing, however, and the issues the N-400 has encountered mirror the broader challenges faced during the modernization of ELIS as a system. A series of Government Accountability Office and IG reports issued since 2006 have found the process of implementing ELIS to be delayed, flawed, lacking in key stakeholder engagement and more.

USCIS says that it is working to address the various concerns.

“In the 6 months since the completion of the OIG’s audit fieldwork in April 2017, USCIS has been intensely focused on resolving the issues the report identified,” USCIS director L. Francis Cissna wrote in his response to the Nov. 30 report.

For example, one of the issues the IG found was that, prior to the deployment of the new, automated N-400, “USCIS did not ensure field personnel were adequately trained to use the new system capabilities.” Now, the agency told FedScoop, USCIS hosts weekly N-400 training teleconferences and webinars. It also has online training modules available to employees whenever they are needed, and is working to build out an “advanced training curriculum” by the end of this month.

The inspector general’s office said it is heartened by these advances and expects to see an advanced curriculum in place. “We look forward to receiving updates on these actions as they are implemented,” the office wrote in its analysis of USCIS’ response. “This recommendation will remain open and resolved until USCIS provides evidence that development of the new advanced training curriculum for ELIS end-users has been completed.”

And this isn’t the only recommendation USCIS is working on. The agency also continues to make progress in reducing legacy hardware, it assured FedScoop. And in response to the IG report’s recommendation that the agency “clearly define agency-wide business goals and objectives” for ELIS, USCIS has come up with eight business metrics (like reducing adjudication time and improving security) that it will use to measure success going forward.