An investigation found that the Department of Energy (DOE) did not properly vet individuals it hired to staff department provided childcare at multiple locations, including not checking whether new hires were registered sex offenders or had criminal records.
According to a report from the office of the Inspector General conducted from July 2018 until October 2020, several childcare facilities operated by the DOE for their staff failed to perform proper background checks on those they hired.
“Hiring personnel without completing full background checks may put children at risk,” the report noted. “[If] the identified issues are not addressed in a timely manner, parents may not have the assurance that their children are in a safe and healthy environment.”
The DOE provides childcare to those working with the department, including at the investigated locations including the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermi), the Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne), and the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s (NETL) Morgantown, West Virginia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania locations.
At the Fermi lab in Illinois, 18 employees did not have fingerprint background checks and 10 were not checked to see whether they were a sex offender or not. One employee never had their work history verified.
Also in Illinois, at the Argonne National Lab, 23 individuals did not have fingerprint background checks and 21 did not have a child abuse/neglect check run on them.
Auditors did not find evidence of 23 workers at the NETL lab in Morgantown ever being checked for sex offender status or whether they had a criminal record or history of child abuse/neglect.
The investigators note that fingerprint background checks are more reliable and use authoritative data from the FBI and state criminal databases as opposed to other background check methods.
“As a result of our work, the three sites made timely corrections and improvements to their processes for conducting background checks, completing these actions before the issuance of our final audit reports. Specifically, Fermi completed 9 of the 10 missing Sex Offender Registry checks,” the report explained.
The one sex offender check not made was because that individual had already been fired prior to the auditors’ recommendations.
Due to Covid-19, childcare centers were shut down. However, as the report notes, its findings are prescient for the reopening of childcare facilities.
In addition to failing to properly vet potential employees, the three DOE run sites did not give proper training either to their childcare workers. This issue, coupled to vetting and other contractual issues, led the agency to issue recommendations to the DOE.
“The centers, who employed individuals to provide care to children, did not ensure that all employees had background checks that were free of derogatory or noteworthy information and associated documentation was maintained. Hiring personnel without completing full background checks may put children at risk,” the investigators found.
Several agency centers, including one in Maryland and one in Washington, D.C. were not investigated because of Covid-19 related closures. In response to the report, the DOE concurred with the findings and said that they would work to implement the changes in the coming year.