Lab neglects employment verification

Photo: A DOE report revealed that many Berkeley Lab subcontractors hired workers but could not provide proper documentation of eligibility to work in the United States.
Brenna Alexander/Staff
A DOE report revealed that many Berkeley Lab subcontractors hired workers but could not provide proper documentation of eligibility to work in the United States.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory allowed subcontractors to hire workers without proper evidence of eligibility to work in the United States, including some who used the Social Security numbers of deceased people, according to a report published by the Department of Energy.

The report, released April 15, indicated that many of the contractors hired by the lab either could not produce Form I-9s - which detail worker eligibility requirements - or provided forms that were outdated, missing information or contained anomalies such as faulty Social Security numbers. In total, eight of the 236 forms collected from 19 subcontractors used duplicate Social Security numbers, Social Security numbers that belonged to deceased individuals or Social Security numbers that had yet to be assigned.

Security concerns about unauthorized workers having access to the Berkeley site prompted energy department officials to conduct an inspection, said Gregory Friedman, the energy department's inspector general, in a statement accompanying the report.

"We referred the possible misuse of Social Security numbers to officials with the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for appropriate action," Friedman said in the statement.

The lab, which received $104 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to its 2010 fiscal year budget of $707 million, is using much of the money to complete infrastructure upgrades through the use of contractors and subcontractors.

Of the lab's total budget, $29 million of the $65 million dedicated to the contracts - under which a majority of the people in question were employed - reviewed in the report were provided through the act.

The report also raised concerns about the use of questionable Social Security numbers, because such action could indicate the displacement of legitimate workers, which would undermine the act's goal of stimulating job creation for U.S. citizens and other eligible workers.

Harley Shaiken, chair of UC Berkeley's Center for Latin American Studies, said the use of false Social Security numbers is common practice among illegal immigrants hired to work for contractors.

According to a report released by the Pew Research Center, as of March 2010, approximately 8 million undocumented workers are employed in the country. The report also stated that in total, undocumented workers made up 5.2 percent of the nation's workforce.

"To work in the formal economy, you pretty much need a Social Security number, and if you don't have one, you'll find one, given the stakes," Shaiken said. "The widespread use of fraudulent Social Security numbers is unfortunate, but it's real."

Executive Order 13465, which was signed by President George W. Bush in June 2008 and went into effect September 2009, requires contractors to electronically verify employment authorization of employees performing work under a federal contract through E-Verify, an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9 to data from the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records.

But none of the contracts examined contained a requirement to use the E-Verify system, Friedman said in the statement.

"Had E-Verify been voluntarily used, (the lab's) contractors likely would have identified a number of other anomalies that we discovered during our testing," Friedman said in the statement.

Friedman added that although the contracts reviewed in the report were issued before use of the E-Verify system became mandatory, the lab failed to modify the contracts to include the requirement even when it became mandatory.

The Berkeley Site Office, a branch of the energy department's Office of Science located at the lab, did not contest the results of the report.

According to the report, the office has taken steps toward incorporating the employment verification clause into contracts, requiring subcontractors to provide documentation proving they have enrolled in E-Verify and checked their employees through the system.

"We concur with the Inspector General's recommendations for resolution of the issues identified and have taken, or are in the process of taking, the necessary steps to ensure that our subcontractors abide by the guidelines," said Jon Weiner, a spokesperson for the lab, in an email. "Accordingly, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has assisted the Berkeley Site Office in its response to the Inspector General."


Contact Damian at [email protected]

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