Senate passes E-Verify provision for contractors

Rule makes E-Verify mandatory for federal contractors

The Senate has added a provision to its fiscal 2010 Homeland Security Department spending bill that would require federal contractors to use the E-Verify employment verification program.

The Senate acted July 8, the same day that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the Obama administration will begin requiring federal contractors to use E-Verify starting Sept. 8.

“After a careful review, the administration will push ahead with full implementation of the rule, which will apply to federal solicitations and contract awards governmentwide starting on Sept. 8, 2009,” Napolitano said.

The mandatory use of E-Verify by federal contractors started as an executive order from President George W. Bush. Implementation was supposed to start in January but was delayed four times by the Obama administration. Officials said they needed more time to review a pending lawsuit brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others that challenged the constitutionality of the rule.

DHS runs the Web-based system in partnership with the Social Security Administration. About 134,000 employers use E-Verify, and 12 states mandate its use for state workers, contractors or both. Arizona requires it for all workers.

Employers enter Social Security numbers of prospective new hires and existing employees into E-Verify. If there is a match, the employee is deemed eligible for work. If not, the employee is advised to contact SSA. DHS acknowledges a 3.9 percent rate of incorrect non-matches.

Critics contend the error rate is higher because the system is not designed to catch stolen or borrowed Social Security numbers. Intel Corp. conducted a study in 2008 that reported an initial 13 percent error rate.

“The administration’s decision to expand E-Verify without correcting the defects in the database system will lead to unnecessary harm to U.S. workers,” said Joanne Lin, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The Homeland Security and Social Security databases used by E-Verify have unacceptably high error rates involving U.S. citizens’ records. Expanding E-Verify to all federal contractors could lead to wrongful dismissals of U.S. workers.”

About 168,000 federal contractors will be subject to the mandatory use of E-Verify. The order applies to federal contracts valued at more than $100,000 and subcontracts worth more than $3,000.

Also on July 8, Napolitano announced that she was rescinding the 2006 no-match rule that would have allowed employers to fire employees who could not resolve discrepancies in their records. The no-match rule never went into effect.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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