E-Verify: ready, willing and able?

Friday - 7/24/2009, 7:03am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

Federal contractors are about to become the first mandatory users of the E-Verify system under a soon-to-be issued federal regulation. Is E-Verify ready?

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By Max Cacas
FederalNewsRadio


The Obama Administration is expected to issue a new regulation mandating that all federal contractors verify the citizenship status of their new hires with the federal E-Verify system. That rule is expected to take effect on September 8th.

Yesterday, a House subcommittee conducted an oversight hearing to see if E-Verify is up to the task.

E-Verify is the web-based electronic data system maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

Rep. Diane Watson (D.-Calif.), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Government Management. Organization and Procurement, says the E-Verify system appears, at first blush, to be doing exactly what Congress intended.

"The program," she said in her opening statement, "is designed to strengthen the employment verification process, and protect against the use of fraudulent documents on the part of new hires."

It is important to remember that right now, and until September 8th, E-Verify is still a voluntary program, allowing employers to sign up to get an almost instantaneous background check on employment applicants, according to David Rust, the Deputy Commissioner for the Social Security Administration, one of the agencies responsible for E-Verify.

Gerri Ratliff, Deputy Associate Director of National Security and Records Verification with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at DHS testifed that in recent years E-Verify has enjoyed exponential growth:

Over 137,000 employers are now involved, and that number translates into over half-a-million worksites today. In addition over 14% of all non-agricultural new hires are run through E-Verify currently. We're growing at the rate of 1,000 employers a week, and already have over 2,000 companies signed up as Federal contractors.

Those Federal contractors are enrolling in the program following news last May that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was drafting a regulation mandating that all Federal contractors review the citizenship status of all new hires beginning on September 8th.

The subcommittee questioned Ratliff on the E-Verify system's ability to handle the additional workload. Ratliff replied by first touting the E-Verify system's recent track record in its ability to respond to employer inquiries.

96.9% of queries result in an automatic confirmation that the worker is employment authorized. Of the remaining 3.1% of queries, only 1 in 10 is ultimately found to be work authorized. Those are statistics we are very, very proud of.

Ratliff also says that with a recent hardware upgrade now complete, E-Verify is now capable of processing more than 60 million verification requests electronically, with appeals and reviews handled manually by DHS staff,

Rust says that with the financial help of DHS, the Social Security System was recently able to set up an independent server that handles all of the E-Verify requests relayed by DHS computers. This, he says will keep the E-Verify demands from compromising mission-critical systems at SSA.

Subcommittee members expressed an interest in expanding the already popular system to even more employers, but Ratliff says any expansion in the pool of employers who use E-Verify most likely will require additional staff, resources and funding, authorized by Congress.

Chairwoman Watson said that her subcommittee will explore the means to fund an expansion of E-verify if and when the need to support additional system capacity is mandated.

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On the Web:
U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services - E-Verify

House - Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization and Procurement

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