Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lack of School Bus Security Provides Opportunities for Terrorists

The latest Fox News report entitled "Thieves Ruin Dallas County School Buses" illustrates just how terrorists might access school bus yards and just how vulnerable students may still be to bus related terror attacks. But this problem is not limited to Dallas County - it is a risk nationwide.

All one has to do is search the Web for instances of school bus vandalism to understand the risk. Lack of security lighting, fencing, and guards are commonplace, and since 9/11 demonstrate how some responsible for protecting buses are still slow to react. Incidents where buses are vandalized for copper wiring and other sellable parts continue to make local and national news.

Shortly after 9/11 Asset Control's ChooseToCare division was asked to develop a proactive guide to the prevention of terrorism in public schools. The end result was the "Proactive Guide" (short name). The guide highlighted the risk to unprotected or inadequately protected school bus yards and provided guidance for those responsible for protecting this important area of infrastructure. Asset Control and ChooseToCare would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that our children are our most precious assets.

Worldwide, there is a history of terror attacks against school children and the buses that carry them. Thankfully, none have occurred domestically. The full text of the guide can be found at the U.S. Department of Education's ERIC Web site at: http://eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/1a/e0/cb.pdf

Unfettered access to school bus yards costs schools dearly in terms of lost assets. But more than that, poorly protected lots may afford terrorists the opportunity to plant explosives or place harmful biological or chemical residue on seat backs or on other surfaces that will come in contact with students or drivers.

Asset Control & ChooseToCare has given thoughtful consideration to publishing material, such as this, that might be considered "sensitive" by some. However, it is our assessment that exposures such as these are already known to those determined to cause us harm. We firmly believe that increasing awareness is paramount. This is an important issue that goes well beyond the expense involved in repairing vandalized buses or the delays incurred in getting kids to school. This is an important safety matter that deserves immediate attention by school boards, school safety officers, and parents alike. Please watch the video. Remember, the point of showing the the video is that the News totally missed the point!

To play the Fox News video clip click on the play button below.

video

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

“The biggest threat to public safety you can imagine”

That’s how Williamson County District Attorney, John Bradley described the continuing problems with the Texas DPS criminal database this week in an interview with the Dallas Morning News. Asset Control commends Mr. Bradley for his candor.

This is the second warning to Texas employers in just a few short years. According to the latest assessment, counties have submitted outcomes on just 69 percent of criminal charges – the same percentage as before. As the Dallas Morning News reported this week, “The state’s criminal database, riddled with holes four years ago, has just as many gaps today.”

The old adage “close enough for government work” seems to apply as far as the State of Texas is concerned. The state requires certain employers licensed by the state, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, child care agencies, and schools to use the DPS database. It’s called a “minimum standard”. But the minimum standard rule also prevents these agencies from using better alternatives such as social security number traces in conjunction with county criminal court record searches. There is a bottom line here says Bill Dolphin, Asset Control’s Compliance Officer. “The bottom line is the bottom line. The DPS pulls in significant revenue with their database. It benefits them to legislate their own client list.”

The end result is that students, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations are placed at risk every day because criminal records are missed by employers thinking they are doing the right thing. But there are other “victims” involved. According to Angie Klein, manager of the DPS Criminal History Records Bureau, “no one knows how many Texans didn’t get a job because an acquittal or dismissal wasn’t in the system.” Klein admits this is a growing issue. An increasing number of complaints from Texas job seekers, mostly angry because their acquittal, dismissal, or expungement wasn’t in the system, has forced DPS to double the size of their resolution unit to 20 employees explains Klein. Notwithstanding, the DPS points a finger at the counties for not following proper reporting procedures. While counties are required to report criminal data to the state, there are no penalties for non-compliance. Texas Senator Jane Nelson says that the state needs to be “sensitive to concerns about unfunded mandates.”

While the DPS and Texas counties fight this out, Asset Control recommends that employers not mandated by law to use the database avoid it. Since news about the flawed database has been extensively published, employers should consider themselves put on notice. If an employer obtains data from a source known to have incomplete and correct data, it could be held liable for lack of due process under the FCRA.

The DPS database was never intended for use as an employment screening tool. It was developed as a tool for use by law enforcement agencies. And as some in the law enforcement community admit, it is even failing those for whom it was intended.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Fast food execs become McFelons as ICE moves in

While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may say that their enforcement efforts target areas involving critical infrastructure and national security, national headlines would indicate otherwise. Recently, an ICE investigation of a Nevada McDonalds franchise resulted in guilty pleas by two franchise executives to felony charges that they knowingly hired illegal alien workers. The franchise owner, Mack Associates Inc., agreed to pay a $1 million fine for the violations and to be placed on probation during the period that the fine is outstanding. A former vice-president for the franchisee faces a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In Cleveland, 58 employees of Casa Fiesta, an Ohio based chain of Mexican restaurants were arrested and charged with illegally gaining employment. In Jacksonville Florida, the 34 year owner of Taurus Painting, Inc. was arrested for harboring illegal aliens and now faces up to 10 years in prison. In Greenbelt Maryland, Francisco Solano, co-owner of El Pollo Rico Restaurant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor aliens and conspiracy to launder money. And in Postville Iowa, ICE raided Agriprocessors, Inc., one of the nation’s largest kosher meat processing plants. According to media officials over 400 employees of the plant were detained by ICE. Two plant supervisors were arrested for aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. Dozens of false INS documents were seized from the human resource department at the plant.

None of these businesses are part of our nation’s vulnerable or critical infrastructure. None would appear to pose a direct risk to national security. The fact of the matter is that security is ultra tight at water treatment plants, nuclear power plants, dams, electrical power plants, and the like. If ICE had to rely on infrastructure entities to support the bulk of their activity they’d spend the days sitting on their thumbs. Entities that are perceived to share a role in the nation’s critical infrastructure or other risk intense operations are security aware. They draw, and rightly so, a good portion of DHS’s attention. But raids and audits of businesses involved in manufacturing, food service, and agriculture, that employ relatively modestly paid workers make for easy headlines and help to drive home just how real the problem of illegal workers is.

That raids of such businesses occur more frequently has a more practical side and that has to do with how these businesses are identified for audit and investigation. Audits are generally not conducted on a random basis. Audit targets are identified through tips and through data analysis. Tips may come from customers, employees, business partners, neighbors, or other concerned citizens. A key method of identifying targets for audit and investigation is through the analysis of data generated by “no match” letters sent to employers by the Social Security Administration. No match letters are sent to employers who reported more than 10 no-matches that represented more than 0.5% of the W-2’s submitted by that employer.

Train your Human Resource personnel to handle no-match letters appropriately. Although a copy of the letter is also sent to the employee, it is the responsibility of the employer to conduct due diligence in order to resolve the discrepancy noted in the letter. We are aware of some employers who, convinced that the discrepancies were largely the result of clerical error, considered them an inconvenience and ignored them. Largely, no-match letters may be the result of transcription errors, name changes due to marriage, or other clerical issues. However, ignoring the letters may put you on ICE’s radar screen and cause an audit and subsequently an investigation. Moreover, suspending or summarily terminating an employee who is the subject of a no-match letter without properly investigating the cause of the discrepancy may violate the law.

ICE provides “Safe Harbor” for employees who receive a “no-match” letter so long as specific steps are followed. To find out more about the procedures to follow when a no-match” letter is received visit the ICE’s website at http://www.ice.gov/ or call the Safe Harbor Information Center at 800-421-7105.