Heritage: Congress should avoid Basic Pilot expansion

Major expansion of the Basic Pilot employee verification program being considered by Congress would be costly, ineffective and cause additional serious harm to victims of identity theft, according to a newresearch paper by James Carafano, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Several House and Senate immigration reform bills contain provisions to increase dramatically the scope and use of the Basic Pilot Employment Eligibility Verification System, a database search program operated since 1997 by the Citizenship and Immigration Services. The voluntary program lets employers search a database of Social Security numbers to help them from hiring illegal aliens.

Only about 2,300 employers use the program annually, but Basic Pilot is hampered by many weaknesses, including the inability to detect identity fraud, delays and employer noncompliance, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Under the bills Congress is considering, Basic Pilot would expand so that it would be used by millions of employers. That would require much greater capacity and integration; the proposed expansion is a subject of interest to the IT government contracting community.

Carafano, in his Aug. 7 research paper, warns that increasing use of Basic Pilot is unnecessary, ineffective and impractical.

"Undocumented workers are not distributed uniformly throughout the economy," Carafano wrote. "They are concentrated in a few sectors, including construction, agriculture and some service industries. Saddling the entire economy with the costs of electronic verification makes no sense."

Furthermore, since Basic Pilot is prone to errors because of inaccurate and outdated data and identity fraud, even a small percentage of false records could negatively affect millions of Americans who have a legitimate right to work. For example, if an illegal alien submits a stolen Social Security number and is approved for work, the real bearer of that Social Security number could be barred from work, resulting in lost productivity to the economy and lost wages to that worker, Carafano said.

Carafano proposes revising the U.S. tax code so that the IRS could share information with the Homeland Security Department and the Social Security Administration. The goal is to aim enforcement efforts at the small number of employers who repeatedly hire illegal workers by providing false documentation.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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