FBI security checks called deficient

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Security procedures used by the FBI to check immigration and naturalization applicants have “serious deficiencies” that have resulted in large backlogs and raised questions about the reliability of the information, a Justice Department report said Monday.

In a highly redacted 120-page report, the department’s Office of the Inspector General said that while the FBI generally was able to process millions of fingerprint checks “in an accurate and timely manner,” the bureau’s name check processes rely on “outdated and inefficient technology, personnel who have limited training, overburdened supervisors and inadequate quality assurance measures.”

“As a result, the name check process is backlogged and also provides little assurance that necessary information is retrieved and transmitted to customer agencies,” Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said.

“Backlogged name checks can hamper timely [Department of Homeland Security] adjudication of immigration applications, thereby impeding applicants’ access to U.S. citizenship and permanent residency [green cards],” Mr. Fine said.

He noted the FBI processes about 86 percent of the requests it receives within 60 days, but the remaining 14 percent can take from several months to more than a year to complete, with some checks pending for up to three years.

As of March, the FBI had more than 327,000 pending U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) name check requests, Mr. Fine said.

The IG’s review examined the FBI’s National Name Check Program (NNCP) and its Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).

FBI Assistant Director John Miller said that while processing nearly 77,000 name check requests per week, the FBI has completed nearly 97 percent of the requests in the last five years and that the majority - nearly 90 percent - were completed within 120 days, well within the required 180-day limit.

Mr. Miller also said the number of employees working on name check requests within NNCP rose to 371 last month, a 30 percent increase since November. He said the number is expected to rise to 597 by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2008.

He said the FBI has reduced the backlog by completing more name checks than it received in fiscals 2004, 2005 and 2007, and that during fiscal 2007, USCIS requested 3.2 million fingerprint identifications from IAFIS, most of which were processed within 24 hours.

“While the IG’s report cites a backlog, this stems from an agreement between the FBI and USCIS, then the Immigration and Naturalization Service, to ‘re-run’ 2.7 million names through a more in-depth name check process following the terrorist attacks of 9/11,” Mr. Miller said.

“This unexpected deluge of immigration-related name checks overwhelmed existing resources,” he said. “As a result, the NNCP was not able to address the increasing demand. Corrective actions implemented over several years have improved the NNCP’s operations, resulting in record numbers of completed name checks and a reduced backlog.

“We appreciate the IG’s efforts to enhance the FBI’s security check procedures, and we stand committed to further increasing the progress we have made in minimizing the name check backlog and improving the NNCP and IAFIS,” he said. “We will continue to work with the Department of Justice to improve these programs in furtherance of national security and public safety.”

Of 21 recommendation made in the IG’s report, Mr. Miller said 15 were under way before the report was published.

Mr. Fine said investigators agreed the backlog resulted partly from the resubmission of 2.7 million requests after the Sept. 11 attacks, but FBI personnel also said its manual process of locating and retrieving paper files in field locations worldwide, coupled with inadequate funds to improve the name-check program, have contributed to the backlog.

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