May 29, 2024

A new report from Austin’s Office of the City Auditor has found several flaws in the city’s criminal background check program. The report concludes that the city could suffer reputational and financial harm if it does not correct these issues. According to the report, the discovered gaps could lead to “legal, financial, and reputational risk for the City.”

The Office conducted this audit to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of the background checks completed for city applicants and employees. This report proved significant due to the considerable increase in background checks performed in recent years. The Office concluded that the city did an excellent job improving its efficiency and effectiveness in its background check reports. 

However, the audit revealed struggles in other areas. For example, a significant issue concerned the city’s ability to identify all positions which require criminal background checks. The report showed how the city struggled to fill these positions with individuals who have passed the required checks.

The audit also revealed how these responsibilities fell on the Human Resources Department. However, the department failed to ensure that other city departments identified these positions. It also did not ensure that the departments filled these positions with those who passed criminal background checks. According to the audit, “this creates legal, financial, and reputational risk for the City because departments may place individuals with criminal histories into positions with financial responsibilities or those which involve contact with vulnerable populations.”

The auditors noted that the city also includes a definition for “frequently.” According to the city, it means working in a background check-required position more than two times in 30 days. The audit revealed that this language did not appear in other sections. 

However, the auditors noted that a potential interpretation could include individuals working in a safety-sensitive position. As such, this interpretation could allow someone who worked less than twice in a month in these positions without a background check. This practice presents a significant risk should these positions be filled with those who have not passed a background check.

The auditors have noted that the city could require a background check for all positions. However, it stated that this could raise costs and conflict with city rules and reentry practices. In addition, they revealed that the Human Resources Department intends to improve its background-checking process. The department plans to work with a third-party vendor to complete background checks, potentially resolving the issue.

Information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only and should not constitute as legal advice. We recommend you contact your own legal counsel for any questions regarding your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.