Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

The United States Census Bureau needs to improve background checks of workers after hiring individuals with criminal records for federal employment who had direct interactions with the American public during the 2020 Census, according to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The report titled “The Census Bureau Needs to Improve Management and Oversite of Vetting Employees to Avoid Hiring Unsuitable Individuals for Federal Employment” was initiated because the OIG’s prior work identified issues related to the Bureau’s Census Investigative Services (CIS) background investigation process.

“Overall, we found that the Bureau continues to face longstanding challenges in providing sufficient governance for its personnel suitability program, which is necessary to ensure that background investigation requirements are met at its facilities,” the report stated. Specifically, the report found the following challenges:

  • The Bureau continues to have a significant backlog of post-employment cases requiring adjudication and the actual number of cases requiring adjudication is questionable.
  • Inadequate documentation and oversight have allowed quality problems regarding post-employment background investigations to persist.
  • CIS did not properly adjudicate results for an estimated 7 percent of temporary 2020 Census pre-employment, fingerprint-only investigations.
  • The Census Hiring and Employment Check (CHEC) system data is incomplete and, in some instances, inaccurate.

“The background investigation at CIS usually involves two phases: (1) a pre-employment case review and suitability recommendation and (2) a post-employment adjudication, except for temporary 2020 Census employees who required limited access to Bureau facilities and systems,” the report explained.

Once a recommendation is approved, CIS releases an investigative form to the background investigations provider for a background investigation. Since 2019, the background investigations have been conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA).

The report found that – as of December 1, 2021 – the CIS still had not conducted post-employment adjudication on at least 5,484 background checks dating back to 2014. However, according to DCSA’s records of October 1, 2021, some 12,017 background checks required post-employment adjudication by the CIS.

The report also found that more than 700 background checks of Census workers had issues that were deemed “major” and almost 300 of these individuals worked for the Bureau in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, including approximately 70 who worked the door-to-door address canvassing operation during the fall of 2019.

The OIG recommended that the Bureau coordinate resources to manage the adjudication backlog workload, strengthen management oversight of the adjudication process, take appropriate actions to remove employees deemed unsuitable, and ensure complete, accurate, and reliable data in the CHEC system.

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