(ICE photo)

GAO: DHS Needs to Strengthen Performance Management on Visa Security Program

A GAO report has found that DHS needs to strengthen performance management on its visa security program, managed by ICE.

The Visa Security Program offers an additional layer of review to the visa adjudication process, but GAO found that VSP agents are not consistently providing training to consular officers. ICE implemented the Pre-Adjudicated Threat Recognition and Intelligence Operations Team (PATRIOT), which screens nonimmigrant visa applications at VSP posts against U.S. databases, and U.S.-based analysts manually vet applications with potential matches to derogatory information. VSP agents then make recommendations to State Department consular officers on whether or not to refuse a visa.

In 2016, VSP screened over 2.1 million visa applications and recommended over 8,000 visa refusals, and VSP agents and VSP-funded locally employed staff dedicated approximately 43 percent of their work hours to non-VSP activities such as assisting ICE investigations not directly related to visas. GAO identified that some training was not targeted to the specific post, and did not address identified threats to the visa process.

The report also found that while ICE developed performance measures for VSP, none of them were outcome-based. ICE measures its activities, such as number of visa refusals VSP agents recommended, rather than the outcomes of those recommendations. GAO found that developing and implementing outcome-based performance measures would help ICE determine whether the program is achieving its objectives.

ICE evaluated options for VSP expansion but its site selection process did not incorporate PATRIOT data or options for remote operations that, for example, use U.S.-based VSP agents. GAO found that ICE could manage human capital and resources more effectively by incorporating PATRIOT data on posts into site selection.

ICE has also implemented remote VSP operations in some posts, but does not consider such approaches during its annual site selection process. ICE documentation stated that ICE could successfully screen and vet applicants remotely through VSP; however, the officials’ preferred approach is to deploy agents to posts overseas.

GAO recommends that ICE should provide appropriate training to consular officers, develop outcome-based performance measures and incorporate PATRIOT data and remote models of VSP into its site selection process.

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