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Review finds background checks lacking at BIA schools
Monday, July 21, 2008
Filed Under: Education | Law

Employees at schools within the Bureau of Indian Affairs system are being hired without going through all of the background checks, according to a recent investigation.

Federal law requires BIA employees who come in contact with Indian children to undergo an FBI fingerprint check and a character check every five years. For schools that are managed directly by tribes, employees must undergo a background check and meet standards that are "no less stringent" than the BIA's.

But a random sampling by the Interior Department's Inspector General found that two percent of employees at schools run by the BIA had no security file and 76 percent had "material" errors in their file. The situation had actually "worsened" since 2004, when the last review was conducted, the OIG said.

"Material errors in the investigations included lack of required FBI fingerprint checks, absence of character background checks, and absence of reinvestigations for employees with over 5 years on the job," the report stated.

Based on the sampling, the OIG concluded that six percent of employees failed to undergo a fingerprint check and five percent failed to undergo a criminal background check. Of those on the job more than five years, 60 percent were not reinvestigated, as required by law.

At schools managed by tribes, the situation was actually worse. More than half of the employees were hired before the FBI fingerprint check concluded.

"Of these employees, 73 percent were later found to have a criminal record," the report said.

At the Santa Fe Indian School, which is managed by the 19 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico, the OIG sampled 30 employee records. All of them were hired without a review of their employment history or their references, and only half of them underwent a fingerprint check.

Of those that did undergo a fingerprint check, 11 percent were hired before the check cleared. Four of them turned out to have criminal records, according to the report, which was made public after an assistant girls basketball coach resigned over alleged sexual contact with a teen player. The BIA has recommended federal charges against the former coach.

The OIG commended the schools for their response to the findings, saying many of them took action after being told of problems. The BIA also agreed to implement all of the report's recommendations, which included a "100 percent" review of employees at schools run directly by tribes.

According to FBI data cited in the report, the FBI initiated 1,658 investigations and made 537 arrests in Indian child sexual abuse matters in fiscal years 2003 through 2006. During the same period, the FBI initiated 134 investigations and made 39 arrests in Indian child physical abuse matters.

"This represented approximately 30 percent of all FBI investigations in Indian Country during that period," the OIG noted.

The Interior Department isn't the only agency that has raised concerns about the safety of Indian children. In 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services cut all Head Start funding to the Navajo Nation after finding out that no background checks were conducted on employees from 2001 to 2005.

"In October 2005, the Head Start program finally ran FBI fingerprint checks for approximately 81 percent of its employees. This check identified that approximately 16 percent of the employees had criminal records. The criminal records included first degree murder, assault, child abuse, driving under the influence, and other violent crimes, making them clearly unsuitable to work with Indian children," the OIG stated.

Get the Report:
Final Audit Report, Bureau of Indian Education Background Investigations (April 2008)

Related Stories:
BIA seeks charges against ex-Indian school coach (5/19)
Former Indian school coach weighs legal action (4/10)
Coaching staff at Santa Fe Indian School resigns (4/8)
Head Start workers fired after background checks (7/11)
'Murderers' working for Navajo Nation Head Start (5/5)
Navajo Nation loses federal Head Start funding (5/4)

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