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February 26 2020

DOI’s backlog of NYC employee background checks could take 4 years to fix

The city’s top watchdog agency is so behind in conducting background checks for new city employees that it doesn’t expect to catch up for another three to four years, a top official said.

In preparation for a City Council hearing on the subject Monday, Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett sent a memo last month to the Council’s financial analyst, Jack Stern, noting the backlog had dropped to 5,328 employees by the end of 2019 in part due to the agency hiring additional investigators.

That’s 15 percent fewer than last March when Garnett testified at a Council investigation’s committee hearing that the backlog had reached 6,300 – including 1,900 cases dating back to 2016 that were yet to be reviewed. The caseload briefly rose to a high of 6,480 last July.

However, Garnett also said in the memo dated Jan. 24, that even with an extra 13 investigators, DOI doesn’t expect to “close the backlog” for another “36-48 months.”

Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), who chairs the investigations committee, said he appreciates the DOI’s “greater sense of urgency” in reducing its backlog but the “sheer size remains embarrassing.”

“The longer these background investigations languish, the less value those investigations become,” the councilman told The Post Sunday.

“What’s the value in conducting a background investigation three, four, five years after the hiring of an employee?”

He said failing to reduce the backlog leaves the city more vulnerable to hiring sexual pervs and other bad apples — even throughout the “upper levels of city government.”

For instance, DOI never got around to doing a full background check on David Hay, a former ex-deputy chief of staff at the Department of Education fired late last year after being arrested for allegedly trying to arrange sex with a 14-year-old boy in Wisconsin.

Torres called Hay’s hiring a “debacle,” adding that he plans to ask Garnett and other DOI staff at Monday’s investigations committee hearing how Hay fell through the cracks to work “at the highest level of DOE.”

Torres also said there are unanswered questions about Kevin O’Brien, a former top aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

O’Brien was hired in 2016, only months after being canned from a previous post at the Democratic Governors Association in Washington, DC, following allegations of committing sexual harassment.

He wound up being quietly sacked by the city in 2017 for allegedly sexually harassing two city staffers.

O’Brien had submitted DOI notarized background forms that failed to list the previous allegations before the city hired him, Garnett testified at the Council hearing last March.

DOI said that as of Sunday, it had decreased the backlog down to about 4,895 employees, adding that Garnett recognizes “the serious issue she inherited” when replacing former Commissioner Mark Peters in November 2018 and has taken “steps” to address it with the additional staffing.

The agency said its goal is to complete background investigations within six months

“Ultimately, hiring agencies, not DOI, make the decision regarding whether to wait for the outcome of a background investigation before allowing an employee to begin working,” DOI said.