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United States Government Accountability Office: 


Before the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, 
Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST:
Thursday, February 10, 2011: 

Employment Verification: 

Federal Agencies Have Improved E-Verify, but Significant Challenges 

Statement of Richard M. Stana, Director: 
Homeland Security and Justice: 


[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here to discuss the E-Verify program, which 
provides employers a tool for verifying an employee's authorization to 
work in the United States. The opportunity for employment is one of 
the most powerful magnets attracting immigrants to the United States. 
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in early 2009 approximately 11 
million unauthorized immigrants were living in the country, and an 
estimated 7.8 million of them, or about 70 percent, were in the labor 
force. Congress, the administration, and some states have taken 
various actions to better ensure that those who work here have 
appropriate work authorization and to safeguard jobs for authorized 
employees. Nonetheless, opportunities remain for unscrupulous 
employers to hire unauthorized workers and for unauthorized workers to 
fraudulently obtain employment by using borrowed or stolen documents. 
Immigration experts have noted that deterring illegal immigration 
requires, among other things, a more reliable employment eligibility 
verification process and a more robust worksite enforcement capacity. 

E-Verify is a free, largely voluntary, Internet-based system operated 
by the Verification Division of the Department of Homeland Security's 
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Social 
Security Administration (SSA). The goals of E-Verify are to (1) reduce 
the employment of individuals unauthorized to work, (2) reduce 
discrimination, (3) protect employee civil liberties and privacy, and 
(4) prevent undue burden on employers. Pursuant to a 2007 Office of 
Management Budget directive, all federal agencies are required to use 
E-Verify on their new hires and, as of September 2009, certain federal 
contractors and subcontractors are required to use E-Verify for newly 
hired employees working in the United States as well as existing 
employees working directly under the contract. A number of states have 
also mandated that some or all employers within the state use E-Verify 
on new hires. From October 2009 through August 2010, E-Verify 
processed approximately 14.9 million queries from nearly 222,000 

In an August 2005 report and June 2008 testimony on E-Verify, we noted 
that USCIS faced challenges in detecting identity fraud and ensuring 
employer compliance with the program's rules.[Footnote 1] We 
highlighted some of the challenges USCIS and SSA faced in reducing 
instances of erroneous tentative nonconfirmations (TNC), or situations 
in which work-authorized employees are not automatically confirmed by 
E-Verify.[Footnote 2] We also noted that mandatory implementation of E-
Verify would place increased demands on USCIS's and SSA's resources. 
My comments today are based primarily on a report we issued in 
December 2010 and provide updates to the challenges we noted in our 
2005 report and 2008 testimony.[Footnote 3] My statement, as 
requested, highlights findings from that report and discusses the 
extent to which (1) USCIS has reduced the incidence of TNCs and E-
Verify's vulnerability to fraud, (2) USCIS has provided safeguards for 
employees' personal information, and (3) USCIS and SSA have taken 
steps to prepare for mandatory E-Verify implementation. Our December 
2010 report also includes a discussion of the extent to which USCIS 
has improved its ability to monitor and ensure employer compliance 
with E-Verify program policies and procedures. 

For our report, we analyzed data on the results of E-Verify cases for 
fiscal year 2009 and interviewed senior E-Verify program officials 
about their procedures for ensuring quality in the E-Verify 
transaction database. We determined that the data were sufficiently 
reliable for the purposes of our report. We reviewed documentation 
explaining how to resolve TNCs and assist employees with name and 
citizenship changes. We reviewed USCIS's privacy policy for E-Verify 
and conducted interviews with privacy officials at USCIS to determine 
what, if any, challenges exist in resolving TNCs. We assessed USCIS's 
and SSA's life-cycle cost estimates and SSA's workload estimates, and 
compared them to characteristics of a reliable cost estimate as 
defined in GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide.[Footnote 4] We 
selected three states for site visits--Colorado, North Carolina, and 
Arizona--based on, among other reasons, the length of time each 
state's E-Verify law had been in effect. While the views provided are 
not generalizable, they provided us with additional perspectives on 
the benefits and challenges associated with the E-Verify program. More 
detailed information on our scope and methodology is contained in our 
December 2010 report. We conducted this work in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. 

USCIS and SSA Have Reduced TNCs, but the Accuracy of E-Verify 
Continues to Be Limited by Both Inconsistent Recording of Employees' 
Names and Fraud: 

USCIS has reduced TNCs from 8 percent for the period June 2004 through 
March 2007 to almost 2.6 percent in fiscal year 2009. As shown in 
figure 1, in fiscal year 2009, about 2.6 percent or over 211,000 of 
newly hired employees received either a SSA or USCIS TNC, including 
about 0.3 percent who were determined to be work eligible after they 
contested a TNC and resolved errors or inaccuracies in their records, 
and about 2.3 percent, or about 189,000, who received a final 
nonconfirmation because their employment eligibility status remained 
unresolved. For the approximately 2.3 percent who received a final 
nonconfirmation, USCIS was unable to determine how many of these 
employees (1) were authorized employees who did not take action to 
resolve a TNC because they were not informed by their employers of 
their right to contest the TNC, (2) independently decided not to 
contest the TNC, or (3) were not eligible to work. 

Figure 1: E-Verify Results for Fiscal Year 2009: 

[Refer to PDF for image: pie-chart] 

Percentage of employees automatically confirmed as work authorized: 
Percentage of employees receiving final nonconfirmations: 2.3%; 
Percentage of employees who receive TNCs later confirmed as work 
authorized: 0.3%. 

Source: GAO analysis of DHS data. 

[End of figure] 

USCIS has reduced TNCs and increased E-Verify accuracy by, among other 
things, expanding the number of databases that E-Verify can query and 
instituting quality control procedures to screen for data entry 
errors. However, erroneous TNCs continue to occur, in part, because of 
inaccuracies and inconsistencies in how personal information is 
recorded on employee documents, in government databases, or both. 
While some actions have been taken to address name-related TNCs, more 
could be done. Specifically, USCIS could better position employees to 
avoid an erroneous TNC by disseminating information to employees on 
the importance of providing consistent name information and how to 
record their names consistently. In our December 2010 report, we 
recommended that USCIS disseminate information to employees on the 
potential for name mismatches to result in erroneous TNCs and how to 
record their names consistently. USCIS concurred with our 
recommendation and outlined actions to address it. For example, USCIS 
commented that in November 2010 it began to distribute the U.S. 
Citizenship Welcome Packet at all naturalization ceremonies to advise 
new citizens to update their records with SSA. USCIS also commented 
that it has commissioned a study, to be completed in the third quarter 
of fiscal year 2011, to determine how to enhance its name-matching 
algorithms. USCIS's actions for reducing the likelihood of name-
related erroneous TNCs are useful steps, but they do not fully address 
the intent of the recommendation because they do not provide specific 
information to employees on how to prevent a name-related TNC. See our 
December 2010 report for more details. 

In addition, identity fraud remains a challenge because employers may 
not be able to determine if employees are presenting genuine identity 
and employment eligibility documents that are borrowed or stolen. 
[Footnote 5] E-Verify also cannot detect cases in which an 
unscrupulous employer assists unauthorized employees. USCIS has taken 
actions to address fraud, most notably with the fiscal year 2007 
implementation of the photo matching tool for permanent residency 
cards and employment authorization documents and the September 2010 
addition to the matching tool of passport photographs. Although the 
photo tool has some limitations, it can help reduce some fraud 
associated with the use of genuine documents in which the original 
photograph is substituted for another.[Footnote 6] To help combat 
identity fraud, USCIS is also seeking to obtain driver's license data 
from states and planning to develop a program that would allow victims 
of identity theft to "lock" their Social Security numbers within E-
Verify until they need them to obtain employment authorization. 
[Footnote 7] Combating identity fraud through the use of biometrics, 
such as through fingerprint or facial recognition, has been included 
in proposed legislation before Congress as an element of comprehensive 
immigration reform, but implementing a biometric system has its own 
set of challenges, including those associated with cost and civil 
liberties. Resolving these issues will be important if this technology 
is to be effectively implemented in combating identity fraud in the 
employment verification process. 

An effective employment authorization system requires a credible 
worksite enforcement program to ensure employer compliance with 
applicable immigration laws; however USCIS is challenged in ensuring 
employer compliance with E-Verify requirements for several reasons. 
For example, USCIS cannot monitor the extent to which employers follow 
program rules because USCIS does not have a presence in employers' 
workplaces.[Footnote 8] USCIS is further limited by its existing 
technology infrastructure, which provides limited ability to analyze 
patterns and trends in the data that could be indicative of employer 
misuse of E-Verify. USCIS has minimal avenue for recourse if employers 
do not respond or remedy noncompliant behavior after a contact from 
USCIS compliance staff because it has limited authority to investigate 
employer misuse and no authority to impose penalties against such 
employers, other than terminating those who knowingly use the system 
for an unauthorized purpose. For enforcement action for violations of 
immigration laws, USCIS relies on Immigration and Customs Enforcement 
(ICE) to investigate, sanction, and prosecute employers. However, ICE 
has reported that it has limited resources to investigate and sanction 
employers that knowingly hire unauthorized workers or those that 
knowingly violate E-Verify program rules.[Footnote 9] Instead, 
according to senior ICE officials, ICE agents seek to maximize limited 
resources by applying risk assessment principles to worksite 
enforcement cases and focusing on detecting and removing unauthorized 
workers from critical infrastructure sites. 

DHS Has Instituted Employee Privacy Protections for E-Verify, but 
Resolving Erroneous TNCs Can Be Challenging: 

USCIS has taken actions to institute safeguards for the privacy of 
personal information for employees who are processed through E-Verify, 
but has not established mechanisms for employees to identify and 
access personal information maintained by DHS that may lead to an 
erroneous TNC, or for E-Verify staff to correct such information. To 
safeguard the privacy of personal information for employees who are 
processed through E-Verify, USCIS has addressed the Fair Information 
Practice Principles, which are the basis for DHS's privacy policy. 
[Footnote 10] For example, USCIS published privacy notices in 2009 and 
2010 that defined parameters, including setting limits on DHS's 
collection and use of personal information for the E-Verify program. 

Notwithstanding the efforts made by USCIS to address privacy concerns, 
employees are limited in their ability to identify and access personal 
information maintained by DHS that may lead to an erroneous TNC. 
[Footnote 11] In our December 2010 report, we recommended that USCIS 
develop procedures to enable employees to access personal information 
and correct inaccuracies or inconsistencies in such information within 
DHS databases. USCIS concurred and identified steps that it is taking 
to address this issue, such as developing a pilot program to assist 
employees receiving TNCs to request a records update, referring 
individuals who receive a TNC to local USCIS or CBP offices and ports 
of entry to correct records when inconsistent or inaccurate 
information is identified, and developing a Self-Check program to 
allow individuals to check their own work authorization status against 
SSA and DHS databases prior to applying for a job. However, we do not 
believe that the steps underway fully address the intent of our 
recommendation because, among other things, USCIS does not have 
operating procedures in place for USCIS staff to explain to employees 
what personal information produced the TNC or what specific steps they 
should take to correct the information. We encourage USCIS to continue 
its efforts to develop procedures enabling employees to access and 
correct inaccurate and inconsistent personal information in DHS 

USCIS and SSA Have Taken Actions to Prepare for Mandatory 
Implementation of E-Verify, but Face Challenges in Estimating Costs: 

USCIS and SSA have taken actions to prepare for possible mandatory 
implementation of E-Verify for all employers nationwide by addressing 
key practices for effectively managing E-Verify system capacity and 
availability and coordinating with each other in operating E-Verify. 
However, USCIS and SSA face challenges in accurately estimating E- 
Verify costs. Our analysis showed that USCIS's E-Verify estimates 
partially met three of four characteristics of a reliable cost 
estimate and minimally met one characteristic.[Footnote 12] As a 
result, we found that USCIS is at increased risk of not making 
informed investment decisions, understanding system affordability, and 
developing justifiable budget requests for future E-Verify use and 
potential mandatory implementation if it. To ensure that USCIS has a 
sound basis for making decisions about resource investments for E-
Verify and securing sufficient resources, in our December 2010 report, 
we recommended that the Director of USCIS ensure that a life-cycle 
cost estimate for E-Verify is developed in a manner that reflects the 
four characteristics of a reliable estimate consistent with best 
practices. USCIS concurred and senior program officials told us that 
USCIS, among other things, has contracted with a federally funded 
research and development center to develop an independent cost 
estimate of the life-cycle costs of E-Verify to better comply with our 
cost-estimating guidance. 

Our analysis showed that SSA's E-Verify estimates substantially met 
three of four characteristics of a reliable cost estimate. However, we 
found that SSA's cost estimates are partially credible because SSA may 
not be able to provide assurance to USCIS that it can provide the 
required level of support for E-Verify operations if it experiences 
cost overruns within any one fiscal year. In our December 2010 report, 
we recommended that the Commissioner of SSA assess the risk around 
SSA's E-Verify workload estimate, in accordance with best practices, 
to ensure that SSA can accurately project costs associated with its E- 
Verify workload and provide the required level of support to USCIS and 
E-Verify operations. SSA did not concur, and stated that it assesses 
the risk around its workload cost estimates and, if E-Verify were to 
become mandatory, SSA would adapt its budget models and recalculate 
estimated costs based on the new projected E-Verify workload volume. 
As discussed in our December 2010 report, SSA does not conduct a risk 
and uncertainty analysis that uses statistical models to 
quantitatively determine the extent of variability around its cost 
estimate or identify the limitations associated with the assumptions 
used to create the estimate. Thus, we continue to believe that SSA 
should adopt this best practice for estimating risks to help it reduce 
the potential for experiencing cost overruns for E-Verify. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I will be pleased to 
respond to any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may 

For further information regarding this testimony, please contact 
Richard M. Stana at (202) 512-8777 or In addition, 
contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public 
Affairs may be found on the last page of this statement. Individuals 
who made key contributions to this testimony are Evi Rezmovic, 
Assistant Director; Christine Hanson; Sara Margraf; and Linda Miller. 
Additionally, key contributors to our December 2010 report include 
Blake Ainsworth, David Alexander, Tonia Brown, Frances Cook, Marisol 
Cruz, John de Ferrari, Julian King, Danielle Pakdaman, David Plocher, 
Karen Richey, Robert Robinson, Douglas Sloane, Stacey Steele, Desiree 
Cunningham, Vanessa Taylor, Teresa Tucker, and Ashley Vaughan. 

[End of section] 


[1] GAO, Immigration Enforcement: Weaknesses Hinder Employment 
Verification and Worksite Enforcement Efforts, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 31, 
2005) and GAO, Employment Verification: Challenges Exist in 
Implementing a Mandatory Electronic Employment Verification System, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, 
D.C.: June 10, 2008). 

[2] We collectively refer to these situations--as well as those in 
which (1) employers inadvertently make errors in data entry when 
making E-Verify queries, (2) employees provide inconsistent personal 
information to government agencies, and (3) government databases 
contain errors unrelated to an employer's or employee's action--as 
erroneous TNCs. 

[3] GAO, Employment Verification: Federal Agencies Have Taken Steps to 
Improve E-Verify, but Significant Challenges Remain, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 17, 

[4] GAO, GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide: Best Practices for 
Developing and Managing Capital Program Costs, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: March 
2009), 8-13. 

[5] GAO has previously reported on the risks associated with the use 
of fraudulent documents and agencies actions to address them. See GAO, 
Border Security: Better Usage of Electronic Passport Security Features 
Could Improve Fraud Detection, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 22, 
2010), and State Department: Undercover Tests Show Passport Issuance 
Process Remains Vulnerable to Fraud, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: July 29, 

[6] According to USCIS, from October 2009 to August 2010, there were 
393,574 cases that initiated E-Verify's photo matching tool. Of these 
cases, employers indicated that 1,569 employees' photos did not match, 
with one case resulting in a contested TNC. USCIS told us that it is 
unable to determine what percentage of the remaining 1,568 cases 
involved identity fraud because they do not have additional 
information on those cases. 

[7] According to USCIS, a locked Social Security number would halt any 
attempt by participating E-Verify employers to verify an employee's 
Social Security number through E-Verify if the employee notifies USCIS 
that his or her identity has been stolen and can provide supporting 
documentation to USCIS. 

[8] Senior E-Verify program officials said they expect improved 
technology enabling automated analysis of E-Verify data to be 
implemented by fiscal year 2012. 

[9] In fiscal year 2009 ICE spent 5.2 percent of its 10.4 million 
agent-reported workload hours on worksite enforcement, issued 52 fines 
as the result of worksite audits, and made 444 criminal and 1,654 
administrative worksite enforcement arrests. Of the 444 criminal 
arrests in fiscal year 2009, 114 were arrests of employers and 
management officials and 330 were arrests of workers. As of August 30, 
2010, ICE had made 397 criminal arrests--165 of employers and 
management officials and 232 of workers--and obtained 270 indictments 
as a result of worksite enforcement-related investigations. 

[10] The Fair Information Practice Principles adopted by DHS are a 
revision of principles, called the Fair Information Practices, first 
proposed by a U.S. government advisory committee. See Department of 
Health, Education, and Welfare, Records, Computers and the Rights of 
Citizens: Report of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated 
Personal Data Systems (July 1973). These principles include 
Transparency, Individual Participation, Purpose Specification, Data 
Minimization, Use Limitation, Data Quality and Integrity, Security, 
and Accountability and Auditing. 

[11] If an employee chooses to contest a TNC, the employer is required 
to provide the employee a referral letter that identifies which agency 
an employee needs to visit or call to resolve the TNC and close the 

[12] Our research has determined that a reliable cost estimate should 
include four characteristics. Specifically, the estimate should be 
comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible. GAO, GAO Cost 
Estimating and Assessment Guide: Best Practices for Developing and 
Managing Capital Program Costs, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: March 
2009), 8-13. 

[End of section] 

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