A recent MTA OIG report conducted a “review of the background and criminal history verification process for the largest classification of employees (the Competitive Class) that MTA New York City Transit (NYC Transit or NYCT) hires.”  The report concluded that the process used by the two agencies for “properly vett[ing Competitive Class hires is] significantly deficient and raises many of the same concerns OIG discussed in a 2004 report, 15 years ago.”  Most of the criticisms in the report are operational, rather than related to fingerprint v. name-based checks, or government v. commercial checks, yet this report amplifies, I think, two themes for us.  First, the private sector can conduct background checks that are faster and more comprehensive employers (government or otherwise) just used the services of a commercial service.  Second, it’s easy to criticize those circumstances where a TNC driver is found to have a criminal history and still work, but if you ride in a glass MTA bus, you should not throw stones.

Two agencies conduct background checks for distinct sets of NYC Transit employees.  The first agency is the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), which “is responsible for examining the criminal records of individuals in certain civil service titles, ranging from Bus and Train Operators and Station Agents to Administrative Engineers. Based solely on its review of these criminal records, DCAS decides to conduct a broader review of the claimed education and experience for only a relatively small number of these employees.”  The second agency is NYCT’s Background Investigations Unit (BIU), which “is responsible for examining hires in the remaining positions. BIU checks all non-civil service employees. Additionally, apart from criminal records checked by DCAS, BIU is by default responsible for vetting most civil service hires’ backgrounds—except those for whom DCAS decides to do a broader review. In other words, BIU is supposed to verify the reported education and work experience for most new employees.”

The BIU found that a number of Bus Operators “had failed to disclose to NYC Transit material aspects of their criminal histories, and thus BIU recommended to HR management that the employees be terminated. The employees’ undisclosed convictions—some relatively recent, others decades old—included the felonies of rape, criminal possession of a weapon, robbery, and criminal sale of a controlled substance, among other serious crimes.”  “By contrast, DCAS did not order the termination of a single Bus Operator from this period, although it was responsible for reviewing approximately 38% of these Bus Operators’ histories. Because it is unlikely that the group of Bus Operators under DCAS’ purview differs significantly from the BIU group, this disparity in termination rates raises the question of whether DCAS’ standards for termination are sufficiently aligned with NYC Transit’s own policy.”

The Report found, among other things, that:

  • “NYC Transit could be hiring employees who have not met stated qualifications for their positions and/or who falsified their credentials without detection.”
  • “Both DCAS and BIU take too long to complete background investigations that identify deficiencies warranting the removal of employees.”

The Report recommends, among other things, that:

  • “For the Subsidiaries, whose employees are non-civil service and thus subject to NYC Transit’s full authority, the agency should significantly increase the number of Competitive Class hires for whom the Background Investigations Unit verifies educational and work experience qualifications. The agency should focus this additional scrutiny on positions with substantive educational and/or experience requirements.”
  • “Establish a risk-based approach to verify the educational and work experience qualifications for a substantial percentage of Competitive Class hires for whom DCAS does not conduct a full investigation.”
  • “Develop a clear understanding of how DCAS assesses the criminal histories of new employees, decides when to open an investigation, and determines whether to require an employee’s termination, and then use this knowledge to inform NYC Transit’s own review of its employees’ qualifications.”
  • “Accelerate the background verification processes used by both agencies, without diminishing their thoroughness and accuracy, through negotiation and coordination with DCAS.”