Come September 8, general and subcontractors may need to learn more about a federally mandated employment verification system called E-Verify.
Overseen by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA), E-Verify is supposed to help ensure a legal workforce by matching new-hires' social security numbers with records in federal databases. In existence for a couple years, the voluntary program will become mandatory in September for certain employers.
According to the USCIS website, the E-Verify program will affect only those contractors who are awarded a new federal contract after September 8 with a Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-Verify clause (73 FR 67704). The program will also apply to contractors working on projects that receive American Recovery and Restoration Act funding.
Not on Everyone's Radar
Though the rule change is expected to be implemented in about a month, few contractors in Southwest Washington appeared to be concerned about the new regulation.
For example, Lloyd Tyler, CFO for the City of Vancouver, said that according to his grant accountants, "it does not appear that E-Verify system affects the Downtown Vancouver Waterfront Access Project," which received $2.5 million in ARRA funds.
Jerry Nutter, president of Vancouver-based Nutter Corporation, said he had never even heard of the E-Verify program, despite bidding on federally funded projects on a regular basis.
Glenn Schneider, construction engineer for the Washington State Department of Transportation, Southwest Region, was also unaware of the E-Verify system, although WASH-DOT is working on a number of projects that have received ARRA dollars.
Does it Work?
There is some concern about the accuracy of matching new hires' social security numbers with the data in the Social Security Administration's and DHS' databases. E-Verify works by allowing employers to electronically compare employee information taken from the Form I-9 (the paper-based employee eligibility verification form used for all new hires) against more than 449 million records in SSA's database and more than 80 million records in DHS immigration databases.
However, the USCIS admits to a 3.1 percent error rate. In addition, the E-Verify system seems to be currently unprepared to deal with fraudulent data.
"E-Verify is not without its flaws, including one fundamental problem: its inability to detect identity theft," said Lynden Melmed, former chief counsel for USCIS.
In response to concerns about identity theft, the Migration Policy Institute issued a report on July 20 that recommended the E-Verify system be expanded to include photographs and biometric data, such as fingerprints.
Just One More Thing to Do
Lisa Stevenson, business manager at Longview-based 5 Rivers Construction, Inc., a general contracting firm, said they hadn't seen the relevant FAR regulation in the contracts they had bid on so far. 5 Rivers is the general contractor for the Longview Westside Highway project for the Cowlitz County Public Works department – a project also receiving ARRA funding.
"We're already inundated with paperwork related to the stimulus money," said Stevenson. "It's more stuff than I've ever seen!"
But if the E-Verify FAR did appear on a contract, she said, it was just "one more thing to do," and "looked pretty simple."
- E-Verify is now being used to determine work authorization for 1 in 4 new hires nationwide
- The use of E-Verify has increased 274 percent since its inception in 2007
- The number of E-Verify queries in 2009 is about 6 million, so far (as of July 4)
- E-Verify is being used at 511,228 worksites (up from 400,000 in Jan. 2009)
- A total of 134,702 employers have signed up to use the E-Verify program
- The number of registered employers is growing by over 1,200 per week
- The industry sectors most using E-Verify are in the "professional, scientific, and technical arena"; construction firms rank 20th in E-Verify use
- 12 states already require the use of E-Verify in some manner; Washington and Oregon do not
Source: Center for Immigration Studies