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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

GAO Says Immigration Courts Face Significant and Growing Backlog of 1.8M Pending Cases

EOIR evaluates how immigration judges perform their duties but has not evaluated its overall judge performance appraisal program.

Immigration judges at the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) hold hearings to decide whether foreign nationals may be removed from the U.S.

Despite a 2017 Government Accountability Office recommendation to develop a strategic workforce plan to address current and future staffing needs, EOIR hasn’t done so—even though it had a significant and growing backlog of 1.8 million pending cases at the start of FY 2023, more than triple the number that it had in FY 2017.

While GAO found that EOIR has taken steps to improve its management practices since the watchdog’s 2017 report, it continues to face several challenges across workforce planning, the immigration judge performance appraisal program, and data quality.

GAO found that EOIR has taken some steps to improve its workforce planning—a systematic process to align an agency’s human capital with its mission needs and goals—but its practices do not fully align with GAO-identified key principles for strategic workforce planning.

As of January 2023, EOIR had not yet developed a strategic workforce plan or set workforce planning goals. In 2017, GAO recommended that EOIR develop and implement a strategic workforce plan that addresses the key principles of workforce planning—such as identifying critical skills, developing strategies to address skills gaps, and monitoring progress—to better position EOIR to address current and future staffing needs. GAO maintains that developing and implementing a strategic workforce plan would better position EOIR to address current and future staffing needs.

In June 2022, EOIR signed a contract with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to help develop workforce planning processes. However, EOIR does not have a governance structure—consisting of assigned and documented roles and responsibilities—to guide its workforce planning efforts and hold leadership accountable for progress on workforce goals. Given its longstanding challenges in this area, GAO is concerned that EOIR does not have reasonable assurance that it will make the investments necessary to implement the results of the contract. 

EOIR evaluates how immigration judges perform their duties but has not evaluated its overall judge performance appraisal program. For example, in recent years, EOIR has revised the criteria against which it evaluates judges. But, GAO found it has not assessed whether they or their supervisors are satisfied with the program’s equity, utility, and accuracy, consistent with OPM guidance.

EOIR reports various immigration case data to the public and takes some steps to ensure such data are accurate and reliable, such as running regular reports on the data to identify and address any anomalies. However, GAO found that EOIR does not have updated guidelines for reporting quality information—information that is secure, objective, and useful—to the public. 

GAO is making six recommendations to improve, among other things, EOIR’s workforce planning, judge performance appraisal program management, and data quality practices. EOIR told GAO it would be implementing the recommendations in order to improve management practices at EOIR. The agency identified actions that it has already taken, or plans to take, to implement the recommendations. For example, EOIR reported that a draft of its strategic plan is undergoing internal review, which it expects to complete within 30 days. EOIR also noted that it will continue to work on improving communication with Congress regarding workforce requirements and budgeting, including through a formal budget rollout plan. In addition, EOIR will work to create a publicly available repository to hold and organize the standards and procedures for information quality.

Read the full report at GAO

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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