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Report finds lax safety measures at BIA schools
Thursday, April 8, 2004

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has put Indian students at risk by hiring people with violent criminal backgrounds to work at schools, an internal investigation concluded.

An audit by the Department of Interior's inspector general found that the BIA's screening process for education workers was flawed. Employees were hired before their background checks were completed and were allowed to remain on the job even when criminal offenses were discovered, investigators said.

The report acknowledges that only a small percentage of employees are deemed unsuitable to work at the 185 schools and dormitories that make up the BIA system. "However, the BIA's background investigation process allows those few unsuitable individuals to be hired and possibly have contact with Indian children," the audit stated.

Investigators identified three general problems with the BIA's screening process. The BIA hired employees without timely initiation of local law enforcement checks and hired employees before FBI checks were completed, the report stated.

Also, the audit determined, there is "insufficient accountability" within the BIA to ensure that background checks are completed and that unsuitable people are removed promptly.

Investigators cited some specific instances in which the process failed. "We concluded that BIA's background investigation process is not sufficient to prevent Indian children from potentially being in danger," the report stated.

In one example, a living assistant was hired to work at a dormitory in New Mexico without the required local law enforcement check. The assistant remained on the job for 17 months before BIA discovered the person had 26 offenses including battery and endangering the welfare of a minor.

Yet the assistant was allowed to stay on that job for five more months before a final decision to transfer the person was made, the report stated.

In another case, an education aide in New Mexico was hired before an FBI check was completed. When the check was finally completed seven months later, it showed a battery and child endangerment conviction. The employee wasn't removed for seven more months, the report said.

The inspector general completed its draft audit in October 2003 but the final report wasn't made public until this month. A March 5 letter from a regional audit manager said the BIA had until April 9 to respond to some outstanding issues.

In a December 31, 2003, letter, the BIA said it was "committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of the children we service." Woodrow Hopper, who was acting principal deputy assistant secretary at the time, cited "significant improvements" in the screening of applicants and employees at BIA schools.

One change was the establishment of a security office within the Office of Indian Education Programs. The recent reorganization of the BIA also put the Office of Law Enforcement Services in charge of all security and screening issues.

In response to the report, the BIA agreed to stop hiring employees until after the FBI check is completed. But the inspector general said it had no way of ensuring whether this change is being implemented.

The BIA did not agree with a recommendation regarding who initiates local law enforcement checks. The report called for this duty to be taken away from each school and transferred to the security office.

BIA instead suggested to have each school work with the security office, citing the lengthy and costly process. The inspector general said it considers this issue unresolved.

About 48,000 students attend BIA schools throughout the nation.

Get the Report:
Improvements Needed in the Bureau of Indian Affairs Process for Conducting Background Investigations of Indian Education Employees (March 2004)

Relevant Links:
Office of Indian Education Programs - http://www.oiep.bia.edu

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