Overview of GAO Report on Refugee Screening

Alexander J. Segal's picture

In July of 2017, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report titled “REFUGEES: Actions Needed by State Department and DHS to Further Strengthen Applicant Screening Process and Assess Fraud Risks” [GAO-17-706]. We have access to the public version of the report which includes all material not deemed sensitive. The 82-page report contains a detailed analysis of the entire refugee screening process and recommendations for the Departments of State (DOS) and Homeland Security (DHS) for improving the vetting process with regard to national security and fraud detection. In this article, we will briefly summarize the report's findings and conclusions. Those who are interested in delving deeper into the issues should study the report in its entirety.

GAO Report

The report found that the DOS and Resettlement Support Centers (RSC) have included in the refugee screening process procedures for detecting fraud. However, the GAO determined that the DOS has not developed outcome-based indicators in accord with its own internal policies for RSCs. The GAO recommended that the DOS develop and implement outcome-based indicators and subsequently monitor the performance of the RSCs against these indicators. The DOS responded favorably to the recommendation, informing the GAO that it has already developed new guidance to monitor RSCs.

The report made three recommendations for the DHS's United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to help the USCIS better adjudicate refugee applications. Firstly, the GAO found that full-time USCIS officers who handle refugee applications are well-trained. However, the GAO recommended that the USCIS provide additional training to temporary officers who may adjudicate refugee applications on circuit rides. Secondly, the GAO noted that the USCIS has achieved favorable results in deploying officers with national security experience to assist in refugee applications. The GAO encouraged the USCIS to formalize this system by developing and implementing a plan to deploy these officers on future circuit rides. Finally, the GAO encouraged the USCIS to conduct quality assurance assessments of refugee applications across the Refugee Affairs Division (RAD) and Internal Operations Division (IO). The USCIS responded favorably to all three recommendations, and it explained how it was seeking to implement them. For example, the USCIS explained that the RAD began hiring and training officers with national security experience who will deploy to locations with high rates of cases beginning in the first quarter of FY 2018.

The GAO also made a joint recommendation for the DOS and DHS. It encouraged the two agencies to conduct regular joint assessments of applicant fraud risks across the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Both agencies responded favorably to the suggestion and explained that they are taking steps to implement the regular joint assessments.

The GAO report also closely examined refugee screening of individuals coming from areas where there is significant terrorist activity. However, it is worth noting that the GAO report did not examine this in light of President Donald Trump's Executive Order 13780 [see blog] due in part to the extensive litigation over the Order rendering its effects uncertain.

This post provides just a small sample of the extensive analysis in the GAO report, focusing primarily on its conclusions and its recommendations. It will be worth following how the DOS and DHS move to implement the report's recommendations after having concurred with them in full.

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