CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) - A FOX 46 investigation has uncovered a reported flaw in the Census Bureau's background check system. This comes after the discovery that a registered child sex offender was given a job with the Charlotte agency.
The Census Bureau was told a year ago that its background check system was "inadequate" and "not fully prepared" for the 2020 Census by the government's own watchdog agency.
The Census Bureau was also given this warning: "Applicants who may be unqualified or unfit may nonetheless pass a background check and be sent to the homes of U.S. residents to collect personal information."
Six months after the Office of Inspector General's report was released containing that warning, the Census Bureau hired Kenneth Mabry, 44, a convicted child sex offender, who is on the North Carolina sex offender registry.
Mabry had been sentenced to three years probation and required to register as a sex offender for attempting to molest an 11-year-old in 2013. After being hired by the Census Bureau last August, he was dispatched to churches, community fairs and parades to recruit employees, according to an insider.
Mabry was then promoted to manage the entire Charlotte office in January.
"It's upsetting," the whistleblower said. "It's scary."
The Office of Inspector General is now investigating what FOX 46 uncovered.
"The Office of Inspector General is aware of this matter and will determine appropriate follow-up actions after evaluating the response by the Census Bureau," said Clark Reid, with the Department of Commerce's Office of Inspector General, the watchdog for the Census Bureau.
Mabry's second arrest in March, for allegedly molesting a nine-year-old girl, comes as the Census Bureau looks to hire 500,000 people to go door-to-door to collect sensitive personal data for the 2020 Census.
A FOX 46 investigation discovered the Census Bureau was warned last year that its background check system was "not fully prepared" to handle the 2020 Census.
An OIG report from 2018, "2020 Census: The Bureau's Background Check Office Is Not Fully Prepared for the 2020 Census," criticized the agency's background check office for:
- Spending more than $16 million since 2010
- "Inadequate quality assurance practices"
- No written policies and procedures for supervisors
- Checklists that weren't followed
- No internal controls to "prevent rubber-stamping" job applications
Left unchecked, the OIG warned "unqualified or unfit" job applicants "may nevertheless pass a background check."
The Census Bureau will not say why the sex offender registry was not checked in Mabry's case. A spokesman says the Bureau's screening involves FBI fingerprinting and a search of arrest records.
"We appreciate the OIG oversight and have taken actions to strengthen and improve our background investigations processes to ensure the safety of the public," said Census Bureau spokesman Michael Cook.
The whistleblower who works at the Charlotte Census Bureau office says Mabry's hiring is inexcusable. She just hopes the 2020 Census will be carried out by employees who are properly vetted.
"Something this major should not have slipped through the cracks," she said.
U.S. Census Bureau Statement
The Census Bureau sent FOX 46 the following updated statement Friday:
"The U.S. Census Bureau takes very seriously its obligation to ensure that the people it hires, especially those who visit or personally engage with the public, do not represent a danger to any individual or community.
We appreciate the Office of Inspector General's (OIG) oversight and have taken actions to strengthen and improve our background investigations processes to ensure the safety of the public. In response to the Office of Inspector General's report last year, we have taken action on all of the six recommendations outlined by the OIG. Four of the six corrective actions are complete, and we are on track to closing the remaining two very soon.
We remain committed to hiring practices that are fair and ensure the safety of the public. We will continue to work with the OIG to improve procedures and checks in place to catch issues early on in the hiring process and appropriately deal with them, and we are training our employees to ensure that these procedures are followed." -Michael Cook, Census Bureau spokesman