Fingerprint-Based Background Checks:

Implementation of the National Child Protection Act of 1993

GGD-97-32: Published: Jan 15, 1997. Publicly Released: Jan 15, 1997.

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Norman J. Rabkin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed certain implementation issues under the National Child Protection Act of 1993, focusing on: (1) the extent to which selected states have enacted statutes authorizing national background checks of child care providers, the fees charged for background checks of volunteers, and how these fees compare with the actual costs in these states; (2) the effects these states' laws and related fees had on volunteerism; (3) whether selected state agencies and other organizations found national background checks a useful screening tool, and how often fingerprint-based background checks identified individuals with criminal histories; and (4) the status of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) being developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the selected states' plans for using the system when it becomes available.

GAO found that: (1) although there are considerable differences in scope or coverage, each of the five study states has enacted statutes authorizing national fingerprint-based background checks regarding paid and, or volunteer positions at various types of child care-related organizations; (2) three of the five states, California, Tennessee, and Texas, have authority to request national checks of volunteers at nonprofit youth-serving organizations; (3) however, these states do not require that national checks be done, and few checks have been requested; (4) a complete check of criminal history records has both FBI and state agency components; (5) the FBI's fee for national fingerprint-based background checks of volunteer applicants is $18; (6) the FBI projected that its costs for a national check would average $18 in 1996; (7) state laws and related fees did not appear to have negatively affected volunteerism at the various nonprofit youth-serving organizations GAO contacted, since applicable statutes permitted rather than required fingerprint-based background checks, and few had been requested; (8) officials at the various organizations GAO contacted said that national checks are or could be a useful tool that should supplement rather than supplant other important screening practices; (9) these officials told GAO that they believe the prospect of being subjected to a national background check deters an indeterminate but significant number of individuals with unacceptable criminal histories from even applying for certain positions; (10) for selected job positions, organizations, or local jurisdictions in the five study states, GAO found that national checks detected some applicants with criminal histories who may not have been detected by less comprehensive practices, including state background checks; (11) according to the FBI, in October 1998 IAFIS is scheduled to be available to a few selected states, for the purposes of conducting national fingerprint checks of applicants, with all other states that have appropriate technology coming online by July 1999; and (12) once IAFIS is fully implemented, the FBI expects that the processing time for national fingerprint checks will be reduced from 7 weeks (not including mailing time) under current processes to about 24 hours.

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