This story was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail on January 9, 2013.
Problems with a contractor hired to process state background checks are leaving job seekers in limbo for months and costing state businesses lots of money.
The holdups have even slowed the adoption process for some children.
Speaking at a legislative interim meeting on Tuesday, Mark Drennan, executive director of the West Virginia Behavioral Health Care Providers Association, told lawmakers that glitches with MorphoTrust have caused some employers to wait three or four months before receiving results of background checks for potential employees.
“This broken system prevents individuals from being gainfully employed,” he said.
Scott Boileau, executive director of the Alliance for Children, Inc., said parents wanting to adopt or foster children have experienced similar delays.
Background checks are required in West Virginia for anyone wanting to work with children, the elderly or the mentally ill. Anyone wanting to adopt or foster a child who has been deemed a ward of the state also is required to get a background check.
Boileau said he knows of one family that has waited nine months for the results of their background check. Other families become frustrated with the process and drop out.
“Folks are not going to put up with that,” he said.
Although problems with background checks have not slowed any active adoptions, Boileau said the slow turnaround times have kept some children in the state’s care for much longer than necessary.
“The fact is, there probably have been kids that could have been placed sooner,” he said.
The state hired MorphoTrust, previously known as L-1 Enrollment Services, in August 2011. Before that, the State Police processed all background checks.
The contract was renewed in August, even though Drennan wrote a letter to Tomblin in July warning of problems with the contractor.
Capt. Michael Corsaro of the State Police told lawmakers on Tuesday that before hiring the company, background checks sometimes would not be processed for two months or longer.
He said the Huntington State Police detachment often had so many people waiting in line for background checks that troopers could not respond to calls because they had to stay in the office and take fingerprints.
Members of the Legislature’s Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care were not pleased to hear of the problems.
“In an age of technology, it’s not acceptable to have to wait that long,” Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston, said.
Williams is the co-chairman of the committee.
Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said she knows of businesses in her district that have waited two or three months to receive the results of a background check.
“By then, somebody has already found another job,” she said.
Hiring MorphoTrust was supposed to free up troopers for police work and reduce the turnaround time for background checks.
“Our excitement quickly turned in the opposite direction, to agitation,” Drennan said.
Drennan said there were often problems with the company’s digital fingerprint system, so MorphoTrust would take old-fashioned ink fingerprints. The company purchased a scanner to digitize those inked cards, but the device did not work.
Drennan said everyone who had their fingerprints taken while MorpoTrust was using that scanner had to go back and get new prints.
He said many providers have returned to inking fingerprints themselves and sending the cards to MorphoTrust for processing. It’s the same process as before the state hired the company, he said, except it costs businesses $9 more per background check.
There are other problems, too.
Drennan said the company does not cash checks in a timely manner, knocking many businesses’ bank ledgers out of whack. MorphoTrust also bills providers for background checks not connected with their business, and contesting the charges takes a long time, he said.
One member of his association received a $12,000 bill from the company, though it insists it owes only $8,000, Drennan said. The disagreement has dragged on for four months.
Drennan also sent a letter to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Tuesday regarding MorphoTrust’s service.
“We have tried to make this work for more than a year and, frankly, have given up on this vendor,” he wrote.
“They promised an electronic process that reduces errors and improves access. Instead what we have is a fragmented system that does not provide enough active centers across the state to accommodate the demand.”
Drennan told the governor members of his organization have paid $220,000 to MorphoTrust since the state hired the company.
“It is unacceptable that we should have to pay for a service that, at a minimum, does not deliver the expected results,” he wrote.
Representatives from the company assured lawmakers they would fix any problems with the state background check system.
“We realize we screwed up. That’s all we can say,” MorphoTrust representative Patrick Kelly said. “We get it. There’s been a lot of problems with our technology and what we’ve done.”
Kelly said the company has flown 25 people to West Virginia over the last three weeks, including an engineering team, to fix technical problems.
Danny Wear, senior director of program management for MorphoTrust, said the company also is meeting with agencies to find out what problems they are having and is now reviewing all 12 fingerprinting sites to see where it can increase staff.
Wear said the company hopes to open three additional fingerprinting sites in the next few months.
He said the company also held a three-and-a-half-hour training session with call center employees to teach them to be attentive to customers’ needs and follow up on every question that comes in.
He said the company is working to set up an email notification system to keep agencies updated on the status of potential employees’ background checks and also hopes to build a secure website that would do the same job in case employers miss the email notifications.
Speaking after the meeting, Kelly said he was not aware of months-long turnaround for background checks but said it could happen. He said the backlogs were not caused by staffing problems but blamed “technical issues.”
He said turnaround times for background checks have dropped each month.
“It’s trending the right way,” he said.
Drennan said he is skeptical. He knows of businesses that are still awaiting background check results from May.
Boileau said ultimately he would like to see all background checks processed within 72 hours. He said he does not care how that is accomplished, whether the state fires MorphoTrust or allows the company to get its act together.
Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, committee co-chairman, said MorphoTrust’s service has been “unacceptable” so far. He said the subcommittee would continue to watch the company’s progress over the next few months.