Inspector General Calls for Tougher Census Background Checks

The federal government has many Offices of Inspectors General, also known by the abbreviation OIG. The job of each OIG is to act as a "watchdog," especially over individual federal agencies. With so much taxpayer money involved, rigorous oversight is vital. Ensuring that departments follow their own rules and regulations is a key task for Inspectors General. 

When they uncover wrongdoing or poorly-applied procedures, the OIG reports their findings and typically issues recommendations for actions the relevant agency should take. Recently, the Office of the Inspector General for the United States Census Bureau concluded a wide-ranging review of the latter's background check policies. During decennial censuses, the Bureau must hire tens of thousands of temporary workers and other staffers, some of whom go door-to-door to speak with the public.

The OIG's findings sent shockwaves through the organization—the Census Bureau fell woefully behind on its pre-employment background check procedures. In some cases, individuals with seriously disqualifying information in their past were sent on field duty, visiting private homes. Just as seriously, the Bureau remains behind on adjudicating more than 5,000 background checks for employed individuals. 

The OIG also found that the Census Bureau did not maintain adequate records. Seven percent of the temporary workers hired in 2020 have yet to have a final decision or their background checks appropriately evaluated.

Concluding the report, the OIG provided several commendations for the Bureau's consideration. This included better coordination and data-sharing between management teams responsible for hiring, devoting more resources to clearing the existing backlog, and taking swift action to terminate employees hired in violation of the background check policy. The Bureau will have some time to consider these recommendations, adopt them, and take action.

What does this in-depth reporting of government accountability have to teach the private sector?

For employers, this story serves as an important reminder of the need to follow through on background checks. Although the OIG did not identify any incidents in which those with serious background issues committed crimes on the job, the risk was there—and the potential outcomes could have been serious. Adopting an inefficient process or failing to evaluate the results of the background checks you order thoroughly is almost the same as having no procedure at all.

Now is a good time for companies to consider reviewing their background check policies. An audit of the process to determine how well it functions and how thoroughly HR applies the written procedure can prove helpful, too. It could reveal that you need to shore up your pre-employment background check, or you could find positive results in a well-functioning system. 

The OIG report on the Census Bureau revealed troubling information, but there would only be opportunities to correct the problems with an audit. The same is true for private businesses. Audits and self-inspections play a significant role in establishing that you can hire top talent effectively while keeping the company and the public safe.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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