To become more efficient and effective in their operations, many Federal agencies have begun to adopt new robotic process automation (RPA) processes. However, concerns remain on the adoption of RPA, Federal officials said during a Brookings Institute webinar on November 16.

According to the General Services Administration’s (GSA) 2020 RPA Playbook, more than two dozen Federal agencies are actively deploying RPA. RPA applications include acquisitions, automated payments, travel payments, and activity logging, among other things.

For the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), RPA is a powerful tool that has allowed for more efficient operations, particularly with processing citizenship applications.

“USCIS is a very data-oriented agency, and we process millions of volumes of applications which takes a long time. RPA has accelerated the completion of these tasks, and this results in better services for our citizens and individuals that apply for citizenship,” Meikle Paschal Jr., RPA program manager at USCIS, said.

Recently the agency was tasked with processing seven million immigration-related applications by Sep 30, 2021. A process that was typically done manually and took a great deal of time was automated. Now, in 90 minutes, users were able to process about two million applications.

However, among all the excitement for this new innovative process, some users remain concerned about possible security risks associated with automation. Paschal noted that these concerns are valid and emphasized that to deploy any RPA program, agencies must first address potential security risks and challenges. For the USCIS RPA program establishing a universal set of governing standards applicable for any use of RPA ensured secure usage and technical excellence.

Another concern that Federal officials have, according to Gabrielle Perret, the director of the Federal RPA Community of Practice at GSA, is automation taking jobs away from people. But what automation is doing, Perret added, is “building capacity within an agency allowing Federal employees to accomplish more daily than they normally would have.”

“Automation allows Federal workers to deliver on agency missions. And it opens potential to deliver better services to consumers,” Perret said. But to get to that point, Perret said agency leaders and RPA experts must train and educate their workforce on what RPA is and how to use it.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.