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USCIS allows biometrics JETS workers to ‘telework’ under hurried contract

Award is given days after Trump administration relaxes telecommuting due to pandemic
USCIS allows biometrics JETS workers to ‘telework’ under hurried contract

Under the Office Of Management And Budget (OMB) Acting Director Russell T. Vought’s March 15 memo, Updated Guidance for the National Capital Region on Telework Flexibilities in Response to Coronavirus, to all heads of federal and department agencies in response to President Trump’s Emergency Declaration in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) awarded an “Emergency Acquisition” for an authorized modification of USCIS’s Biometrics JETS (Joint Engineering Teams-Sustainment) system to set up employees and contractors for “telework.”

The potential $89.1 million contract, which has a “potential completion date” of September 14, was hurriedly awarded several days later on March 17 to Fairfax, Virginia-based Pyramid Systems, Inc., which USCIS initially awarded an $89,053,347 contract for data processing, hosting, and related services under the Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading-Edge Solutions II (EAGLE II) on September 18, 2015, with a completion date of June 14, 2020.

The new “emergency” contract has extended that timeframe.

The move has raised eyebrows on Washington regarding the security procedures USCIS has presumably put in place for dealing with individuals’ biometric information outside the confines of approved secure workplaces. USCIS has been mum on this concern.

“Don’t mix personal and work. Employees should use their work devices to do work and their personal devices for personal matters. If you wouldn’t install or use a service while you’re at the office, don’t do it while at home on your work device,” the World Economic Forum stated March 30. The group added: “Attackers are also taking advantage of the fact that many people who are working from home have not applied the same security on their networks that would be in place in a corporate environment, or that enterprises haven’t deployed the right technologies or corporate security policies to ensure that all corporate-owned or corporate-managed devices have the exact same security protections, regardless of whether they’re connected to an enterprise network or an open home WiFi network.”

Pyramid says it “has been an SEI CMMI-DEV Maturity Level 3 organization since 2008 and was successfully reappraised in December 2011 and October 2014. In our CMMI-DEV Level 3 environment, we ensure standardized best practices are followed across our entire project portfolio. Clients are able to take advantage of the by-products and outcomes of CMMI-DEV Level 3 discipline: risk reduction, accelerated delivery, increased visibility, and cost reduction through early error identification.” The company added that “All quality assurance and quality control activities are managed and monitored by our Quality Management Group.”

According to DHS’s Office of the Chief Procurement Officer Procurement Innovation Lab Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report, the USCIS in an updated statement that the “Joint Engineering Teams – Sustainment (JETS)” was a “procurement … for agile development and maintenance capability to support USCIS’s four mission-focused portfolios (benefits, biometrics, customer service, and records). A single solicitation resulted in four awards, one award for each portfolio, each to a different contractor. These $370 million, five years, competitive task order awards were issued under the DHS Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading-Edge Solutions II (EAGLE II) multiple-award indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract vehicle.”

“In light of the evolving situation concerning the coronavirus and the National Capitol Region (NCR) experiencing community transmission, the administration wants to ensure that department and agency leaders assertively safeguard the health and safety of their workforce while remaining open to serve the American people and conduct mission-critical functions,” Vought stated in is the memo, emphasizing “All Federal Executive Branch departments and agencies within the National Capital Region, consistent with OMB’s recent guidance (0MB M-20-13), are asked to offer maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, consistent with operational needs of the departments and agencies as determined by their heads. In addition, we encourage agencies to use all existing authorities to offer telework to additional employees, to the extent their work could be telework enabled.”

USCIS quickly determined – with DHS interdepartmental input – to allow Pyramid Systems to perform its biometrics-related functions via “telework,” which required the rushed contract in order to stand-up this capability. The company initially designed and has operated what it calls a “custom biometrics system” that “automate[s] facial and iris recognition” for lawful immigration applications while “speed[ing] delivery of new capabilities to field agents” and “scal[ing] to meet the capacity of biometrics storage.”

According to a USCIS document, “Joint Engineering Teams-Sustainment (JETS) will provide USCIS with Agile development and maintenance capability to sustain I.T. systems for the agency’s four mission-focused portfolios: Records, Benefits, Customer Service, and Biometrics. Each portfolio is issued as a separate task order. JETS will supply Agile development teams to participate in I.T. maintenance efforts using Serum and other Agile processes, to include other activities necessary for sustaining previously developed systems and applications using Lean processes.”

The government “oversee[s] the architecture and design of systems, the Agile methodologies to be used, product planning, and the prioritization of requirements; the JETS contractors will be responsible for maintaining I.T. systems with quality and applications to work within those architectures and processes to meet the business requirements; code integration and deployment will be addressed as an entire team, JETS contractors, other contractors, and government staff.”

JETS teams working on the biometrics program consists of a group of systems responsible for the capture and storage of biometric information of USCIS applicants. These systems support background investigation, case adjudication, card production, and identity verification activities in USCIS and other agencies. BBSS receives transactions from the Livescan devices at each ASC, Service Center, and International Mobiles, and then routes the transactions based on the biometrics collected. Ten-print transactions are sent to the FBI for background checks, and the results are stored. Photos, press-prints, and signatures are sent to the C3/C4 BRUs and eventually used for card production.”

According to USCIS, the program “secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”

USCIS has 18,000 Government employees and contractors working at 250 offices worldwide. USCIS’ strategic goals include:

• Strengthening the security and integrity of the immigration system;
• Providing effective customer-oriented immigration benefit and information services;
• Supporting immigrants’ integration and participation in American civic culture;
• Promoting flexible and sound immigration policies and programs;
• Strengthening the infrastructure supporting the USCIS mission; and
• Operating as a high-performance organization that promotes a highly talented workforce and dynamic work culture.

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