When a country is surrounded by two oceans and is one of the largest countries in the world in land area, monitoring the entry and departure of travelers poses significant challenges. Considering that the United States has more than 300 ports of entry and receives more than 60 million entry/departure applications each year, you can image that the process is a logistical nightmare.
The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has historically required foreign citizens who are entering the U.S. in a non-immigrant visa status to complete paper documents known as I-94 forms. Completed forms would then be shipped to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for final processing. Quick and easy, right? Wrong. With so many ports and such a high volume of forms, port employees were overwhelmed and the process became inefficient. Larger ports shipped out boxes full of forms once per week, but some smaller ports would wait weeks until the box was full before shipping. This delay meant that foreign citizens, even those who weren’t permitted to enter America, could be in the country for up to two weeks before anyone at the Department of Homeland Security knew they were here—or they could have entered and exited the country by the time their papers caught up to them. It wasn’t until after the September 11 attacks that the government decided to look for alternatives to the paper-based system to increase efficiency and security.
Since the early 2000s, the DHS has been working to automate and digitize traditional paper-based processes. That meant that they were charged with digitizing millions of documents. To give you an idea of what they were working with, if you stacked up the forms it would be two times higher than the Empire State building and fill up five warehouses. By digitizing documents, the DHS is able to cut the processing time from weeks to days and helps the CBP identify terrorists or potentially dangerous foreign citizens at an early stage. The switch to digital processing can also save the government money. In fact, the CBP saved more than $25 million over the course of five-years.
Automated processing offers advantages that paper processing cannot match, so it’s no surprise that more and more agencies have re-examined their traditional modes of operation. Everyone reaps the benefits from a more efficient and reliable government. Read more on this case study.
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