@StateDept Cancels Ongoing #DiversityVisa Registration, Launches New Registration Oct.18-Nov.22

Posted: 3:14 pm PT
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On October 12, we blogged that the diversity visa website (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down for maintenance since at least Sunday, October 8 (see Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!). The Bureau of Consular Affairs which runs the program has now put up a new announcement:

With the exception of the notice posted on https://www.dvlottery.state.gov there are no FAQs on the website.  The US Embassy in Ecuador, however, helpfully posted the following FAQ:

Q: What can you tell us about the technical issue? Were entries lost? Was this a hacking attempt?
The technical issue was a failure to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth, which is permitted in certain limited circumstances. This was not a result of any outside interference or hacking attempt.

Q: How many entries had been received before this technical issue?
Due to technical issues, we are unable to reliably estimate how many valid entries were received at this time. In order to protect the integrity of the process and ensure a fair opportunity to all entrants, we are restarting the entry period now.

Q: How many DV entries does the Department expect for DV-2019?
In DV-2018, the last year for which numbers are available, we received more than 14 million entries from principal applicants.

Q: How will the Department notify applicants whose entries are not valid? 

The Department will send an automated email notification to each Diversity Visa entrant from whom an entry was received before October 18, 2017, using the email address provided on the lottery entry form, directing the entrant to check the website dvlottery.state.gov for an important announcement.  We will also work through our embassies and consulates to inform potential entrants of the situation and new registration period using social media and local media outlets.

Since this program, presumably was the same program used in last year’s lottery, why would the “technical issue” that failed “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth” only surface now?  Did CA switched contractor between last year and this year’s lottery roll out? Did contractor perform system programming change after the last lottery but before the current one opened on October 3, 2017?

What we don’t understand is if this is a technical issue now, why was this not a technical issue last year if they’re using the same program?

This is not the first time that a “technical issue” happened with diversity visa lottery program.

We were reminded recently that the May 2015 DV lottery site crashed when people were trying to check lottery results. But the really big one happened much earlier in 2011 when Consular Affairs ran the FY2012 lottery, and it turned out the lottery results were not even random, so CA had to nullify the visa lottery results and ran the lottery again.  The nullification resulted in a lawsuit against the Department of State. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 14, 2011.

The State/OIG did review that FY2012 DV debacle, and since we’re not clear how the current technical issue occurred, we’ll revisit the 2011 case:

The OIG team found three problems that led to this failure, all of which stem from the lack of adherence to sound project management and systems development principles. First, CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) implemented a system programming change without performing adequate testing. Second, CST changed contract task orders without notifying the Office of Acquisition Management (AQM). Third, CST management failed to adequately discuss the changes with all stakeholders and thus did not fully understand how overseas consular officers administer the DV program.

Also this:

The primary reason for the DV 2012 program failure was that CST did not adequately test the new computer program for the random selection of potential DV program participants. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended,3 limits the number of DVs that may be available by both region and country. Therefore, 22 CFR § 42.33(c) requires that selection be based on random rank-ordering of participants by region through a computer program designed for this purpose. When participants submit their records, the computer program assigns a sequential number to each record based on the participant’s region. Subsequently, the selection process uses the sequential numbers to randomly rank-order the participants’ records. CST management decided in November 2010 not to use the commercial off—the—shelf statistics analysis program that it had used successfully for random rank—ordering in numerous previous years. Instead, CST management asked one of its contractors to develop a program. This new computer program had a coding error that produced a nonrandom rank-ordering and thus failed to meet INA requirements. The program not only selected 98 percent of the applicants from the first two dates of the allowed submission dates, it also selected multiple individuals from the same families.

According to CST management and the contractor staff who developed the new DV computer program, testing scenarios were limited to validating that all geographic regions were assigned the correct numerical limitation and that the total number of selectees to be drawn was accurate. In addition, the development, testing, and production implementation of the program were done exclusively by one contracting company that, due to poor planning and failure to consult with all DV stakeholders, did not have adequate information to create a complete test plan for the computer program. Key stakeholders such as CST’s independent validation and verification team, the Visa Office, and the contractor that operated and managed the legacy computer program were not involved in planning and implementing the new computer program.
[…]
Principals in the Visa Office were not aware that changes had been made to the computer program until after it failed and the results had to be voided. CST management further stated that it is not clear to them which office is responsible for administering the DV program.

Read the full report here: https://oig.state.gov/system/files/176330.pdf.

So again, did the Consular Affairs contractor perform system programming changes after last year’s lottery but before the current one opened on the 3rd of October?

If that did not happen, and CA is using the same system, how did CA principals become aware that the system is failing “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth?”

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Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!

Posted: 1:41 pm PT
Updated: 2:02 pm PT
Updated: October 13, 5:15 pm PT
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The annual Diversity Visa Lottery registration period opened October 3, 2017 and closes on November 7, 2017. We understand that the registration site (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down since at least Sunday. Today the site has a “Down for Maintenance” banner. The question we’ve been asked: The State Department has 45 weeks a year to get the site ready for the five week registration period. Now it’s down for maintenance, what’s going on? We’ve asked. We will update if we hear anything back.

Update#1:
We understand that this could be a technical issue, but we have yet to hear an official response to our inquiry or a public statement from the State Department.

Update#2: A State Department official speaking on background told us “There is a technical problem requiring maintenance and the site will be brought back up as soon as possible.” When asked about the specifics of the technical problem or the time frame when they expect the issue resolved, the official declined to provide additional details. 

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FY2017 Budget Request: Consular Project Initiatives and New Positions

Posted: 2:58 am EDT
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See the President’s FY 2017 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of State and USAID.

Below is an excerpt from the FY 2017 request for consular projects:

CONSULAR PROJECT INITIATIVES: $2,676.6 million

Revenue from Department-retained consular fees and surcharges funds CBSP consular programs and activities. These fees and surcharges include: Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees, Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) surcharges, Passport Security surcharges, Immigrant Visa Security surcharges, Diversity Visa Lottery fees, Fraud Prevention and Detection fees (H&L), and Affidavit of Support (AoS) Review fees. Each consular fee or surcharge is used to fund CBSP activities consistent with its applicable statutory authorities.

Consular Systems Technology: $388.2 million

Consular Systems Technology (CST) supports worldwide consular information systems operations, maintenance, and modernization. CST includes several major investments, including ConsularOne, which consolidates and modernizes all consular applications under a common IT application framework. Other CST application packages support citizens with unplanned or emergency needs, and support task force groups when crises arise that endangers citizens’ lives. The FY 2017 request of $388.2 million, which reflects a decrease of $185.8 million from the FY 2016 estimate, ensures that CA/CST continues to develop and maintain the IT systems and infrastructure necessary to support both domestic offices and overseas posts. Hardware and software expenditures will decrease in FY 2017, due to the FY 2016 completion of worldwide infrastructure replacement projects needed to support the anticipated passport surge. The request reflects continued full software development support of ConsularOne.

Domestic Executive Support: $38.0 million

Domestic Executive Support encompasses CA’s Front Office, the Office of the Executive Director (CA/EX), the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs (CA/P), and the Office of the Comptroller (CA/C). Under the leadership of the Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs (CA), the Front Office oversees the overall performance of the Bureau in its role as the primary implementer and manager of the Consular and Border Security Program. The FY 2017 request supports overall operational costs including contracts, supplies, travel and other domestic operations.

The $2.2 million decrease below the FY 2016 estimate is associated with the the realignment of payments for Protecting Powers and Emergency Medical and Dietary Assistance (EMDA) programs to American Citizens Services.

Document Integrity, Training and Anti-Fraud Programs: $4.8 million

The FY 2017 request for CA’s Office of Fraud Prevention Programs (CA/FPP) will support efforts to identify and combat internal fraud, to ensure unqualified applicants do not receive or retain consular benefits.

Visa Services: $96.4 million

CA administers the visa portion of the U.S. immigration framework, using the latest technology to automate the visa process and working with other U.S. government agencies to efficiently and accurately screen all applicants for security threats and other potential ineligibilities. The FY 2017 request of $96.4 million will fund Visa Services activities, including plans for a large-scale digitization of approximately 50 million visa records, a quality assurance audit among contractors to ensure proper procedure and policies are followed, and increases to the labor contract at the National Visa Center (NVC) and Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) due to anticipated workload increases. The $10.2 million decrease is attributable to non-recurring costs in the FY 2016 estimate.

Affidavit of Support Program: $36.7 million

The Affidavit of Support (AoS) form is a requirement for many family- and employment-based immigrant visas, to demonstrate that the applicant will have adequate financial support once in the United States. Revenue from the AoS fees support the review and processing of AoS forms.

Diversity Visa Lottery Program: $4.0 million

The Diversity Visa (DV) program randomly selects nationals of certain countries for the opportunity to apply for immigration visas. DV lottery fees support the administration of the DV program.

Passport Services: $991.7 million

The Passport Services Directorate (PPT) protects U.S. border security and facilitates legitimate travel through comprehensive management of consular information technology systems, financial resources, and human resources in support of consular activities. As the Department prepares for the significant increase in passport demand related to the WHTI surge, the FY 2017 request will ensure that PPT can continue to provide exemplary service while meeting the FY 2017 projected workload of 20 million applications. Increasing workload demand is a driver of most CBSP expenses, including those of Passport Services. The overall increase of $24.8 million over the FY 2016 estimate includes increases for the Traceable Mail Initiative, travel, the Passport Call Center, supplies such as passport books and cards, and the full implementation of the Next Generation Passport (NGP) book, which will include more security features than the current passport. The increases, however, will be offset by reductions for foils and ribbons not required with the NGP; savings from phasing out printers for the current passport, and a reduction in postage.

American Citizens Services (ACS): $13.5 million

The Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services, Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (OCS/ACS) provides documentation and protection to U.S. citizens worldwide. The

FY 2017 request will allow CA to meets its protection responsibilities for U.S. citizens overseas through programs for crisis management; protection of children, victims of crime, and U.S. citizens residing and traveling abroad; voter assistance; and emergency support to destitute U.S. citizens. The FY 2017 request reflects a $912,000 increase over the FY 2016 estimate, which supports the biannual paper stock purchases for Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CBRA) forms and the realignment of payments for Protecting Powers and Emergency Medical and Dietary Assistance (EMDA) programs from Domestic Executive Support.

Consular Affairs Overseas Support: $1,102.1 million

CA Overseas Support covers overseas expenses of the CBSP, including the costs of start-up support costs for overseas staff. Overseas support includes continued implementation of the Global Support

Strategy (GSS); International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) contributions; equipment for consular agents; and recurring, non-salary support for Locally Employed Staff (LE Staff) and all U.S. Direct Hire (USDH) personnel. The FY 2017 request of $1,102.1 million is approximately $1.7 million below the FY 2016 Estimate, which is the net result of an increase of additional overseas operational expenses of $19.5 million, offset by a $21.2 million decrease for non-recurring new position support costs from FY 2016. Additionally, CA will begin paying non-rent operating expenses in

FY 2017, which were previously funded by the Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance (ESCM) appropriation.

FSN Separation Liability Trust Fund (FSNSLTF): $1.2 million

FSNSLTF covers the accrued separation pay of CBSP-funded locally employed staff who voluntarily resign, retire, die in service, or lose their jobs due to reduction-in-force. The FY 2017 request funds the FSNSLTF contribution for consular-related Foreign National staff.

BORDER SECURITY STAFF/AMERICAN SALARIES (AMSALS): $680.5 million

Human capital is the most vital component of the CBSP. The Department devotes a significant level of effort and resources toward increasing the efficiency and capacity in the visa and passport processes, including ensuring adequate staffing levels both domestically and overseas. CBSP-funded staff costs include positions in CA as well as in numerous partner bureaus. The $37.4 million increase over the FY 2016 estimate is attributable to the new positions, which will strengthen the consular workforce during the upcoming renewal of millions of passports in FY 2017. To support the consular-funded programs and activities, the FY 2017 request includes 90 new positions: seven domestic consular positions; 61 overseas consular positions; 20 positions for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS); and two positions for the Foreign Service Institute (FSI).

The full document for the State Department request is available here (PDF).

 

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