The trick to effective employee and applicant screening is to get the job done thoroughly, efficiently and speedily, without losing the process’s integrity. And that’s the way the good South African background check companies grow both their reputations and their businesses. Experience is the great teacher, knowing where the true facts are to be found and how to unearth them expeditiously.
Background checks at the White House and the US administration
While being thorough is a good thing, can it be taken too far? Some might describe the process as over the top, for instance at the home of the president of the US in the hunt for information about job seekers at the White House and other sensitive positions. For example, treasury secretary Jacob J. Lew received 444 questions from interrogators before his confirmation. Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, had 1 000 questions fired at her.
People who have gone through the vetting in Barack Obama’s White House describe a “The process is grueling and can last months.”
The vetting process at the White House typically begins with a brief conversation with a lawyer on basic questions: drug use, taxes, and criminal convictions. Next are financial disclosure forms seeking information about transactions as far back as a decade: home purchases, investments, income, and employment. That is followed by questions from the Office of Government Ethics, which scours the answers for inconsistencies.
In the security check that follows, potential nominees are asked to disclose all travel and meetings with foreign governments during the past 10 years or more. That is followed by a request for everything the nominee has ever written — papers, speeches, articles — and the official questions from members of Congress.
“The basic premise is that it is better to over-vet, to get everything on the table early and not give something that could end up becoming a scandal,” says an ex-administration official.
Can screening lead to a better airport experience?
Researchers into logjams at busy international airports have finally come to the conclusion that the big cause of holdups can be laid at the door of the immigration and customs check points. Having honed in on the problem, the US government is now seriously considering screening frequent fliers, identifying them and giving them quick access to the boarding gates. Should South Africa’s Airports Company be thinking about the same thing? We certainly think so. Consider the following.
Private security firms are jostling for position on what could be a potentially high-dollar government contract: a chance to conduct background checks on thousands of frequent fliers. At least two of America’s biggest security firms have raised their hands so far: The Chertoff Group, led by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and a rival firm called Clear.
While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says there’s still serious thinking ahead on the issue, the TSA is exploring the idea of putting a third party in charge of conducting background checks on passengers who apply for the expedited-screening programme, known as PreCheck. It’s part of a broader push by the TSA to allow low-risk travelers to zip through airport checkpoints, speed up security lines and free agents to spot potential terrorist threats.
Taking screening private
TSA officials are still analysing proposals from private firms that responded to a request for information on background screening. Those submissions will provide TSA with market research and other data to help it determine whether or not to privatise a process on passenger checks that has been the government’s responsibility.
“TSA should be applauded for recognising the value that the private sector can bring to this issue,” said one security industry insider. “The private sector offers scaling potential and innovation that can support the work DHS and TSA are doing to strengthen security and enhance the experience for the travelling public.”
TSA’s efforts to expand PreCheck and move toward a more risk-based approach to fighting terrorism has plenty of fans on Capitol Hill, notes Washington think tank Politico. This is hardly surprising given how much time lawmakers spend in the air each week. But several warned about the risks of putting secure, sensitive information about travellers in the hands of a private party.
The issue is fueling lively debate in America’s various levels of administration.
Roy Blunt, a Republican senator believes bringing in the private sector and introducing a competitive option is a good thing, “as long as the system is secure”. Fellow senator Mike McCaul is less sure. “When it gets into the law enforcement realm, sometimes it’s hard to contract that kind of stuff out,” he says. “I’d rather have background checks being done by law enforcement.”
The programme, however, appears to be heading for overdrive. It has been in a pilot phase for the last couple of years and is being test flown at 40 domestic airports America-wide. The only way it could work is if passengers “are willing to submit background data for a check”, says TSA spokesman David Castelveter.
“What we’re looking at more is private contractors doing screening,” McCaul says.
Using a third party to do background checks for those that are in the business of flying isn’t unheard of. The American Association of Airport Executives has partnered with TSA in doing background checks on aviation workers who use secure areas of airports. It’s a massive undertaking and TSC says it has done more than a million criminal background checks and a quarter-million threat assessments. That partnership suggests outsourcing some functions of aviation security is doable if the political will is there.
Now, if we could get Acsa thinking the same way, airports might get a whole lot friendlier.