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United States Government The Almighty Buck The Internet

US Spends $1bn Over a Decade Trying To Digitize Immigration Forms, Just 1 Is Online (washingtonpost.com) 305

Bruce66423 writes: A government project to digitize immigration forms succeeded in enabling exactly one application to be completed and submitted after 10 years of work because of the botched software and implementation. The Washington Post reports: "This project, run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was originally supposed to cost a half-billion dollars and be finished in 2013. Instead, it’s now projected to reach up to $3.1 billion and be done nearly four years from now, putting in jeopardy efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies, handle immigrants already seeking citizenship and detect national security threats, according to documents and interviews with former and current federal officials."
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US Spends $1bn Over a Decade Trying To Digitize Immigration Forms, Just 1 Is Online

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  • by AntronArgaiv ( 4043705 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @03:36PM (#50895261)

    Is there ANY government IT project that has been completed on time, under budget and exceeds specifications?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 09, 2015 @03:46PM (#50895383)

      The Hoover Dam. It may not seem IT related, but it supplies electricity to lots of computers.

      • Yeah way back in 1936 the Hoover dam was under budget. Today, about the same amount of money is spent on the repeated environmental studies of the Keystone pipeline upgrade. Sad.

        What's extra sad is that 99% of people don't realize Keystone already runs from Canada to Texas. The upgrade would have meant newer, safer pipes and fittings (along with larger pipe).

        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by Coren22 ( 1625475 )

          It would also take a shitload of oil off of rail. All those recent oil spills by railroad accidents were because of the Democrats blocking the Keystone XL. I am surprised they don't just put another pipe right next to the existing one, but I guess it is a waste of materials due to the longer path.

          • I am surprised they don't just put another pipe right next to the existing one, but I guess it is a waste of materials due to the longer path.

            They have. There are dozens of much more low-key pipelines. The difference is, they're not transporting bitumen, which is particularly noxious stuff - terrible if it leaks into the water supply.

            But mostly, have you seen the price of gas lately? Frankly, at this point, it's more a point of conservative political pride to whine about Keystone-XL, than it has anything to do with economics. The numbers simply don't justify it. And that's not even pointing out that abusing eminent domain to force US land owners

            • The price of gas is a temporary thing. It is OPEC trying to strangle the US's and Russia's oil industries, it will come back up, and be $4-5 again.

    • Is there ANY government IT project that has been completed on time, under budget and exceeds specifications?

      You are assuming that those things are desirable outcomes.

    • NASA did it up until ~1969. No other government entity has since though, including current NASA :).
      • Apollo 11 may have been on time, but it was over budget (particularly the LM)
        • To be fair, at the time, no one had ever built a craft to travel to the Moon, or a module to land on it, or a vehicle to drive on it. I can see how cost estimates might have been too low.

          Digitizing forms, setting up databases, making websites, etc., is all old hat now.

    • What I simply don't understand with these projects:

      If they fail to meet the specifications, why are they paid?
      Why are they paid even more afterwards?

      If the company could not deliver what was specified, sure the forms are not there which is bad, but it should also cost nothing.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The contractors are paid for the work they perform. While they're generally scum-sucking shitbags, they have nothing on us (I say this as a USG program manager) on our amazing ability to fuck up everything we touch. By and large, the IT contractors deliver exactly what we tell them to. However, they haven't got a prayer when we re-write the requirements documentation faster than they can decompose it, put in irrational requirements, hold them to draft standards that are dynamically changing, impose an accou

    • Is there ANY private IT project where the LOWEST BIDDER (regardless of capability) completes a project on time, under budget, and exceeds/meets specifications? Fast, Cheap, Useful -- pick any 2.
    • by DFDumont ( 19326 )

      Yes I agree there should be a breach of contract litigation effort against IBM. However I think the greater good could be served by firing every government worker who had any part of the approval for the project, the oversight of the project itself or requests for additional funding. I do see a pattern. It seems ever since we have left the mainframe, the federal government has failed in all cases with any form of IT project. I suspect it is because those in charge either can't spell there own name the s

    • Any time you let bureaucrats and politicians tell you how to do your job, if it ever gets 'completed' it will take many times longer and even greater multiples of cash to make something that at best, only halfway works, and often can't even fulfill the original stated requirements properly.

      It's very similar to other software projects where your boss let's the customer start making whatever changes to the requirements he wants after you've already completed 20% or more of the project. The 'requests' never st
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      Most of them finish on budget and schedule. But you never hear about those, you only hear about the fiascoes.
    • Very likely, this project was a victim of the budget crunches. Whenever you make a project take longer than planned, it will grow in cost. When they have to shut down for a month and then a week over the course of a few years, like the budget crises did, you end up with budget overruns.

    • by roca ( 43122 )

      You can apply for an ESTA (visa waiver) on the Web. It's not the greatest Web site ever but it's been there for years and works well enough. So they've got at least one successful project under their belts.

    • by asylumx ( 881307 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @05:43PM (#50896603)

      Is there ANY IT project that has been completed on time, under budget and exceeds specifications?

      FTFY

    • Government IT project are designed to maximize spending without producing any practical results.
  • Where did the money go?

    A billion dollars to put one form online? I would have done ALL of them for a mere fraction of that - in under a year!

    Perhaps the contract was given to the same company who built the Obamacare website?
    • Re:But... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @03:55PM (#50895483) Homepage

      Agency officials did not complete the basic plans for the computer system until nearly three years after the initial $500 million contract had been awarded to IBM, and the approach to adopting the technology was outdated before work on it began.

      OK, so the cheap shot here is IBM.

      But I often see these things and think to myself, there's probably a list of reasons why shit like this happens.

      Stupid conflicting policies, politicians angling for a little pork for their constituents, politicians who want to fuck up the system to show why government can't do these things, bad vision to start with, departments dickering over their own little information silos, competing agencies trying to get you to use their system to help them pay for their own mistakes.

      I frequently think this kind of thing happens as much from mismanagement and meddling by the people who started the process as anything.

      And I've seen a few cases where people want to blame the vendor because it's just easier, but the vendor had to put up with tremendous amounts of dithering an inability to make decisions from the players.

      Yes, sometimes the vendor falls short. Yes, government can fall short. But sometimes it seems like there's too many competing agendas, and individual players dropping in and trying to redefine everything. Delivery of anything is doomed from the start because they don't know what they want.

      You never get to know the real truth, but in a lot of ways I bet an objective understanding of how things go so horribly wrong would be interesting. Usually, however, it's almost impossible to get an honest evaluation of what really happened ... because so many asses have been covered the truth has been buried under an avalanche of finger pointing.

      Hell, I've see these kinds of things fail because the original sales people lied to badly what was being offered had no chance ... and I've seen customers redefine what they're looking for so often as to make it impossible to actually deliver the contract.

      Invariably some new PM or stakeholder wants to scrap everything done so far and use the technology they're most comfortable with.

      These projects fail, often spectacularly. And the difference between what the low-level people think happened, and what management things is often staggering. Because the higher up the org chart you go, the less reality is defined by what is true, until you get to a level where facts don't even enter into anything.

      • Also consider, the government was shut down twice in this time period due to the national budget not getting approved. When you have to shutdown and restart a project, and the schedule starts to creep due to things like that, it costs big money, and can cost serious cost overruns.

    • by Raseri ( 812266 )

      Perhaps the contract was given to the same company who built the Obamacare website?

      You mean H1B workers from India who never wrote a line of code before being assigned to a massive government project with a million moving parts? Seems likely, considering:

      the initial $500 million contract had been awarded to IBM

      and the fact that it's years overdue and billions of dollars over budget.

      • Considering that this was a system for processing immigration paperwork, you'd think it'd be the one thing that a firm like IBM would be motivated to be competent at!

        • by Raseri ( 812266 )
          You would think so, but then you would remember that there is a 100% chance that IBM has farmed out the actual work to InfoSys, Tata, or some such shit-tier company.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "We can have the federal government handle X, the Euro's do it, after all!"

    Except we don't have a European bureaucracy, we have an American one. There is just about nothing they can get right. Ever. Mass transit, health care, food subsidies, infrastructure, education, you name it: they fuck it up. They are incompetent, brainless boobs. They are trustworthy with nothing. Hand over the immigration budget to the border states and let them handle it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I reckon it's because your country is run by campaign contributions and lobbying.

      You should start by putting limits on campaign spending and making all party donations public.

      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        I don't think there should be limits on contributions private property and the disposition there of it, is the very corner stone of liberty. Once you start telling people how they can spend their own money, freedom is just a joke. I also generally support peoples right to be anonymous, because I think that can enable a freer expression of ideas. If someone independently and anonymously wants to run issues ads, I think that is okay and their should be no limits on their downing so.

        I do think though as we

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 09, 2015 @04:16PM (#50895717)

          I don't think there should be limits on contributions private property and the disposition there of it, is the very corner stone of liberty. Once you start telling people how they can spend their own money,

          We don't want to tell private individuals how they can spend their money. We do want to tell public servants what kinds of gifts they can accept.

        • by jpapon ( 1877296 )

          I don't think there should be limits on contributions private property and the disposition there of it, is the very corner stone of liberty. Once you start telling people how they can spend their own money, freedom is just a joke.

          So you think bribery is necessary to keep freedom from being "a joke"???

          If someone independently and anonymously wants to run issues ads, I think that is okay and their should be no limits on their downing so.

          You don't see the problem with people being able to run issue ads with no accountability? What's to stop people from just saturating the airwaves with disinformation and outright lies?

          • So you think bribery is necessary to keep freedom from being "a joke"???

            True freedom means having the freedom to bribe our legislators.

            That's The American Way (TM).

        • Once you start telling people how they can spend their own money, freedom is just a joke.

          You cannot legally buy votes. You cannot legally pay to have someone killed. You cannot legally buy another person. Obviously freedom is just a joke and we should be allowed to do these things. Or, one could realize that freedoms among people are various balancing acts, and that striking the right balance is a good one. I don't think that you should be able to effectively buy a politician's vote. It's corrosive to our government, and our government is whom we charge with enforcing our notions of freedom

        • You have a corrupt government that is entirely influenced by money.

          The only way to fix it is to publish where the money comes from, to inform the voters and to limit campaign spending.

          We limit campaign spending based on how many candidates are running. Seems to work.
          Advertising is also restricted in the weeks prior to an election

      • I reckon it's because your country is run by campaign contributions and lobbying.

        It's because of the way our voting system was designed. You guys get proportional representation, so your anti-corruption fringe gets a voice. We have a system that's probably designed to marginalize all but two parties, so there's no check on corruption.

    • This is why we need to outsource our government to the Europeans.

      • This is why we need to outsource our government to the Europeans.

        Germany offered to do this for you as far back as 1941, but you Yanks objected for some reason :-P

        • Well to be fair, back then the tables were turned; we actually didn't do such a shoddy job governing ourselves, and the Germans were terrible at governing in the best interests of the whole population, including its minority groups.

          These days, we've become just plain incompetent at governing. Considering how well Denmark and Finland are doing, I think we should outsource our governance to them. But even Greece could do a better job than us.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @03:43PM (#50895351)
    I think it is about time the government starts to legally chase after the contractors who are just incompetent.
    • But then the elected officials who voted to approve the projects wouldn't get cushy jobs when they left office...

    • I'm sure it takes a lot of skill it milk so much money out of contracts like these.

    • They are not incompetent. They will make over $3 billion from the project. From IBM's POW it is a great success.

    • by zm ( 257549 )
      You think incompetence caused this? How cute.. Anyway, wanna buy a bridge?
    • Why would the government go after cases like this when much of that funneled money is to secure them jobs with these companies when they leave their government job.

  • Here's what it looks like from the cheap seats these days.

    Question #1: Which political party are people from your country and socioeconomic background most likely to support once they have attained citizenship?
    a) Democrat
    b) Republican
    c) Independent or Other

    If you answered "a" in Question #1, you're all good - c'mon in! (Or should I say, "feel free to stay, amigo.") If you answered "b" or "c" prepare

  • This is what you get when you get a bunch of drag and drop coders and a bloated budget.
  • Put a project that should have been done in house into the hands of a private contractor? Check!

    Stage a long series of cost overruns to ensure maximum profit? Check!

    Screw over immigrants? Check!

    Sounds like the program did perfectly.

  • by Lendrick ( 314723 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @03:54PM (#50895471) Homepage Journal

    ...was Test Test. from the town of Testville, Testistan. Interestingly, his postal code was 90210.

  • If there is one thing that comes to mind when it comes to good online submission in the government it is tax returns. The government contracts out to online businesses and essentially offers a bounty for each successful return filed. Simply adopt a similar solution for other forums, make it so the bounty is only given for a form that results in being processed (instead of rejected for errors) and companies will put in their own reasonable filtering.

    P.S. Please no comments about the complexity of the tax sys

  • To be fair, the lawmakers required the project to always be updated to the very latest web-based standards. They were therefore legally bound to redo the entire thing every 3 months. The history of their git (originally RCS) repository includes code in everything from c-based binaries that implement the CGI standard to angular and d3-based single page apps.

  • by FlopEJoe ( 784551 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @04:03PM (#50895585)
    The national debt has continued to increase an average of $2.25 billion per day since September 30, 2012. Losing a billion in a decade is practically frugal.
  • Don't tell me, let me guess. It's the INS form to apply as a candidate for the US presidency.

  • by OakDragon ( 885217 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @05:06PM (#50896261) Journal
    It's one helluva form!
  • This has caused an even bigger problem: There are trailer-loads of boxes of applications which have not been processed.

    That's.. TRAILER-loads.

  • Turns out actually all of the forms are online; it's just they concatenated them into this one document, and you can just fill out whichever of the 6000 pages you find relevant.

    Note however it's just a PDF to download, you must print all 6000 pages in triplicate to file. Don't forget to initial every other page or your application will be denied.

  • Not sure I understand the problem. I frequently face forms that are not digitized. My handwriting is terrible so I scan the pages of the paper form and OCR them, whip out Acrobat Pro and convert them to a fillable form. Then I correct any errors and save the blank form. This blank fillable PDF form can be used by anyone on any standard computer. Any data entered via keyboard is easily legible and can even be spell checked. Similar forms are used by many government agencies and millions of businesses.

    Next, I

  • I can understand a company padding out a government contract, after all, as far as the people running the Immigration Services, it's not their money, but this is taking the piss.
  • If they digitize, they could no longer request the same formsevery six months so as to drag out the process years. The current way lets them send you a letter saying they need form X. Sfter you send it in a second time you get another letter months later asking for form Y that you've sent in originally. Finally, the ask for more information not in the original list of required information. After several years later you go for an interview and dicover none of the updated information was sent to the embassy

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