Completed Program Evaluations for FY 2003 - Strategic Goal 3: Homeland Security

FY 2003 Performance and Accountability Report
Bureau of Resource Management
December 2003

Title or Topic Review of Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Policy and Procedures (ISP-I-03-26)
Evaluator Office of Inspector General, Department of State
Department Contact Leo Wollemborg, Senior Management Advisor, Bureau of Consular Affairs
Major Findings
  • The post-9/11 era witnessed immediate efforts to effect dramatic changes in CA's direction of the visa process. However, Department leadership has not universally accepted this fundamental readjustment regarding visa issuance. The Department, as a whole, still does not fully use the consular function as part of a coordinated national effort to manage border security and implement the Immigration and Nationality Act, in order to prevent the travel of those who might present risks to the United States and its citizens and also to facilitate legitimate travel. CA has begun to address shortcomings identified after the events of 9/11, that include: (1) lack of uniformity in visa processing from mission to mission, and (2) lack of a planning staff to develop and advance options for consular input into border security initiatives and directions.
  • Visa adjudicators should be able to interview applicants in their native language and be familiar with local culture and conditions, but they are often sent to post without language training or area studies.
  • The Department intentionally restricts language training for first- and second-tour officers, because it is reluctant to invest much time and money in an untenured officer who might not make the Foreign Service a career.
  • Many language-trained consular officers have reported that the training was not tailored to their needs, particularly interviewing. Little or no training is given in making effective use of an interpreter, although Foreign Service National visa clerks often translate on the visa line.
  • Area studies courses, which familiarize students with the social and political cultures of a region, generally do not provide the information visa officers most need. Post-specific language insights and interviewing techniques, acquired during a two- or three-year assignment, are rarely passed on to successors because of pervasive staffing gaps.
Major Recommendations
  • OIG recommended that the Department assess and reallocate consular workloads worldwide, determine where consular workloads do not require a full-time consular position, and create regional consular positions to handle the workload at missions with a limited demand for consular services.
  • The Department should require language training for consular positions, and all consular officers should be required to be able to communicate at least at the basic level (S-2/R-2).
  • The Department should finalize and implement plans to adapt language training to serve better the needs of consular officers, including interviewing techniques.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • On September 26, Secretary Powell and Secretary Ridge signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) setting the terms under which Department of State and Department of Homeland Security officers will work together in the granting or refusal of visas.
  • CA reviewed the one-officer posts worldwide and developed a list of candidates for the regionalization of the nonimmigrant visa (NIV) function. These posts included those with the lowest NIV workload, and many for which the immigrant visa (IV) function had already been regionalized. The response from the regional bureaus was universally negative, citing political concerns, inconvenience to the applicants, and the value of knowledge of local conditions to the visa adjudication as factors arguing against consolidation. CA is prepared to pursue this discussion further, if the regional bureaus are willing.
  • CA established new supervisory Regional Consular Officer (RCO) position in Cairo to cover primarily the Gulf States. The first permanent incumbent arrived in August. CA believes a third RCO for Africa is warranted, but should be based in Johannesburg, as travel logistics from Frankfurt are difficult. CA intends to create this position in FY 2004.
  • The Department has revamped its standard operating procedures so as to provide a step-by-step, uniform, unambiguous guide for all of visa related procedures. This will enable consular officers abroad to properly review visa applications and effectively fulfill their critical national security responsibilities.
  • The Visa Office has restructured to create a planning staff, additional Regional Consular Officer positions were created and the Department is focusing on training to screen out terrorists. CA is taking and will continue to take steps to strengthen management controls via the issuance of standard operating procedures (SOPs), certifications that management controls are in place at consular offices, and sending Consular Management Assistance Teams (CMATs) to work collaboratively with posts toward our common goal of protecting homeland security and our borders. The CMATs will assess the integrity of management controls, effective resource utilization and space allocation, and the extent to which Department mandated SOPs have been well understood and implemented.
  • The Department raised "hard" language training threshold for Junior Officers from 23 to 36 weeks and up-graded many "hard" language positions to require competency at the basic level.
  • Language curricula now includes specialized modules geared toward consular personnel.
  • Language students assigned to consular positions are provided the opportunity to work with consular modules in topics including interview practice.
  • FSI is updating consular tradecraft material in Arabic, with plans to expand consular tradecraft training through the language school.
Expected Result
  • The Department will make the visa process more secure and thereby contribute to enhanced homeland security.
  • Consular officers better trained to detect fraud and refuse visas to potential terrorists and criminals. Improved border security.
Title or Topic Visa Process Should Be Strengthened as an Antiterrorism Tool GAO-03-132 (October 21, 2002)
Evaluator U.S. General Accounting Office
Department Contact Edward Dickens, Press Officer, Bureau of Consular Affairs
Major Findings
  • Since 9/11, CA has introduced changes to strengthen the visa process, but there continues to be a divergence of opinions concerning visa policies and procedures that are appropriate given the need for heightened border security.
Major Recommendations
  • Develop a clear policy on the priority attached to addressing national security concerns connected with the visa process; develop more comprehensive guidance on how posts should use the visa process to screen against potential terrorists; assess staffing requirements for visa operations; and expand consular training. (GAO-03-132NI)
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • Issued a "visa roadmap" outlining new visa priorities and policies.
  • Issued over 40 standard operating procedures to ensure that consular officers abroad properly review visa applications, effectively fulfill their critical national security responsibilities, and have a step-by-step, unambiguous guide for all procedures.
  • Added staff, including a Senior Advisor for Strategic Planning, in the Visa Office and established 39 new overseas positions funded by visa fees and 51 new consular positions under the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative in FY 2003. Additional positions are planned for FY 2004.
  • Introduced new training on interviewing techniques, with additional emphasis on ethics and terrorism and expanded Chief of Mission, DCM and Principal Officer training. In FY 2004 five days will be added to the 26-day basic consular course.
Expected Result
  • MOU between DHS and DOS provides a framework for better coordination of border security; integrated entry/exit/tracking systems with DHS; series of instructions specifying standard operating procedures (SOP) contributes to implementation of Visa Roadmap. Consular Management Assistance Teams will reinforce SOPs and sound management practices.