National Sex Offender Registry:

New Hire Data Has Potential for Updating Addresses of Convicted Sex Offenders

GAO-06-766: Published: Jul 31, 2006. Publicly Released: Aug 30, 2006.

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In the 1990s, several heinous crimes put the issue of the sexual abuse of children onto the nation's policy agenda. Sexual crimes against children and adults are often perpetrated by individuals known to their victims and these crimes devastate families and communities. To safeguard children and their families, Congress enacted a series of laws between 1994 and 2003 that required sex offenders to register their addresses with law enforcement agencies. The laws also required that states, in order to be eligible to receive certain federal funds, establish sex offender registries, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) establish a national sex offender registry. The National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR) is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) within DOJ. It is a nationwide database compiled from information in individual state sex offender registries and it currently lists over 400,000 convicted sex offenders. The system requires convicted sex offenders to register with law enforcement agencies upon release from prison and to update their address information whenever they move or change addresses. Law enforcement agencies rely on information in sex offender registries to track the location and movement of convicted sex offenders; however, GAO and others have raised concerns about the accuracy of the information contained in the registries because many offenders fail to update their address information as required. To help track the location of sex offenders, law enforcement officials have turned to other sources of information, such as state departments of motor vehicles and commercial databases. Previous GAO work suggests that the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) has been useful for the purposes of verifying eligibility for federal benefit programs and collecting debt owed to the federal government, and is a timely source of information. The NDNH is a database maintained by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The NDNH is a repository of approximately 1.35 billion individual employment, unemployment insurance, and wage data records from state directories of new hires, state workforce agencies, and federal agencies. It contains information for most of the nation's workforce, including both residential and employer addresses, and is updated at least quarterly. The NDNH is used primarily to assist state child support agencies in locating parents and enforcing child support orders. Currently, DOJ has access to NDNH information for cases involving the abduction of a child or for enforcing child custody determinations. A memorandum of understanding between HHS and DOJ governs the data exchange between OCSE and DOJ, and is required for all agencies that have access to NDNH data. In order to determine the feasibility of updating information in sex offender registries with information contained in the NDNH, we examined: (1) whether there is the potential to help law enforcement agencies locate convicted sex offenders by using information contained in the NDNH and approaches that could be taken for doing so, and (2) the potential advantages and limitations associated with these approaches.

While current law does not authorize DOJ to receive NDNH data to use in locating convicted sex offenders, Congress has granted other federal agencies the authority to receive NDNH data for use in verifying individuals' eligibility for federal benefits and other purposes not related to child support enforcement. Three basic approaches for accessing the NDNH database could potentially be used to help locate convicted sex offenders: individual case inquiries, computerized database matching, and a hybrid approach that would allow states to generate discrete lists of offenders for computerized database matching. The different approaches have both common and distinct advantages and limitations. Some of the benefits and costs associated with these three approaches are uncertain. For example, computerized database matching of the NDNH and the entire NSOR offers an opportunity to update sex offender addresses in much greater volume than individual case inquiries, but the cost of following up on the resulting volume of mismatches might exceed state resources for such follow-up and increase privacy risks. In this report, we are suggesting that Congress consider granting the authority to HHS to share information contained in the NDNH with the FBI for the purposes of locating convicted sex offenders who are being actively sought by law enforcement officials but whose addresses in the NSOR are incorrect, out-of-date, or missing. Further, we are suggesting that Congress consider directing HHS and the FBI to conduct a test match of the information contained in the NDNH and NSOR to determine the actual costs and benefits that may be derived from matching information in the two databases, including an assessment of the validity of the matches.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: To help law enforcement officials track the location of convicted sex offenders using updated address information, Congress may wish to consider granting HHS the authority to share with the FBI address information from the NDNH for convicted sex offenders who are being actively sought by law enforcement officials.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not taken any action on this matter.

    Matter: To help law enforcement officials track the location of convicted sex offenders using updated address information, Congress may wish to consider directing the FBI to work with HHS to conduct a test match of information from the NSOR and NDNH to determine the actual benefits and costs that may be derived from matching information in the two databases, including an assessment of the validity of the matches.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In June 2008, ACF Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) staff met with FBI officials to discuss the technical feasibility of a test match to determine the benefits of an ongoing match between the National Director of New Hires and the National Sex Offender Registry. In December 2008, ACF officials prepared a cost estimate for conducting a test match which included a simple cost estimate from FBI. As of July 2010, HHS reported that no additional action had been taken on this effort.

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