Serious deficiencies in how the FBI checks the backgrounds of immigrants seeking to become citizens can lead to delays for those who are here legally and impede the deportation of applicants who are threats, according to an audit released Monday.
The audit by the Office of Inspector General found that the FBI's name-check system relies on outdated and inefficient technology, inadequately trained personnel, overburdened supervisors, and inadequate quality-assurance measures.
Problems in the process have created large backlogs and raised questions about the reliability of resulting information, the audit found.
On Friday, 33 Muslim immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship in Missouri filed a federal class-action lawsuit here claiming they have been left in limbo for months or years because of slow background checks. The suit seeks to have a federal judge enforce time limits on such checks.
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said Friday that the agency has eliminated old cases, has increased fees to hire more record-checkers and is building a new central records complex.
"It boils down to volume versus resources," he said. "We have not had enough resources to address it."
Half the FBI's 4 million name-check requests last year came from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The immigration agency has said it can't authorize citizenship until applicants are cleared by the FBI.
The audit said the FBI processes about 86 percent of the name-check requests within two months. The remaining 14 percent can take months to three years to complete.
It said name-check delays and backlogs can slow down the citizenship process, keep out foreign workers, disrupt study-abroad programs, block access to U.S. citizenship benefits and impede deportation of applicants who pose a national security threat.
Auditors recommended technological upgrades, formal training for name-check analysts and reassessment of fees every two years.