Robert Cowan is the Director of the National Benefits Center (NBC), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The NBC is headquartered in Lee’s Summit, MO. LSEDC recently spoke with Robert Cowan, Director of NBC to learn more about the growing cadre of government workers in Lee’s Summit.
Q: Tell us about your local operations.
A: Our mission at USCIS is to administer the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values. The NBC’s role in that mission is twofold.
First, we prepare certain applications for immigration benefits from people who USCIS will interview as part of the decision process. USCIS conducts these interviews at over 80 USCIS Field Offices around the country. The primary applications we prepare are Applications for Naturalization (i.e., citizenship applications) and Applications to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (i.e., “green card” applications). We prepare them by establishing that applicants are prima fascia eligible for the requested benefit and conducting security checks.
Second, we make final decisions on a variety of applications. These include Applications for Employment Authorization, Travel Documents, and Intercountry Adoptions. In Fiscal Year 2018, the NBC processed over 2.4 million applications.
Q: What factors have led to your growth in the region?
A: After 9/11, the government has focused more intensely on ensuring that law-abiding immigrants who seek legal channels into our nation are met with the necessary scrutiny so that we do not admit individuals who seek to do our nation harm, are threats to public safety or are attempting to perpetrate fraud. That is one of our key roles and has contributed to our growth. In addition, over the years, we have taken on additional functions that allow us to support the Field Offices we service.
Q: Tell us about your current facility expansion plans.
A: We are planning to add 40,000 square feet of office cubicle-type space to our local operation (in the south building of the Summit Technology Campus) in July of this year. That will bring our total Lee’s Summit office to about 300,000 square feet. We have another 120,000 square feet at Rosana Square in Overland Park.
Q: Are you planning to hire new employees to fill that space?
A: Between our two sites, we have about 950 federal workers and about 1,400 contract workers across two shifts. We have received authority to hire another 70 people on the federal side in Fiscal Year 2019. Those workers are being split between our Lee’s Summit office and our Overland Park location.
Q: What are the positive aspects of doing business in Lee’s Summit?
A: We love the Midwest work ethic. Our work is very mission-driven and collaborative. The workforce is strong, and we have had great luck finding great employees and keeping turnover low for our full-time federal positions. Contract positions are a little harder to fill because they’re more transitory. Lee’s Summit’s central location works well for us from a time-zone perspective, and there is good infrastructure in place.