USACM Member Encourages Safeguards for Employment Eligibility Verification System

By David Bruggeman
June 8, 2007

On Thursday, June 7, Dr. Peter G. Neumann, Principal Scientist in the Computer Science Laboratory at SRI International, testified before the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee on the proposed Employment Eligibility Verification System, or EEVS. The EEVS is part of the immigration legislation recently debated in the Senate, and apparently removed from consideration for the year. However, there is similar legislation in the House and Senate that may still be considered this year.

As we posted earlier on the weblog, the EEVS is a proposed electronic verification system that would check the identity and work authorization of job applicants and employees. It is currently working under a Basic Pilot Program that handled approximately 1.8 million employee queries in 2006. Testimony at the hearing indicated the system would need to handle on average 60 million queries once the system is implemented nationwide.

Dr. Neumann testified on behalf of USACM, and his testimony can be read online. The ACM press release on his testimony is also available online. The other witnesses at the hearing were:

  • Frederick G. Streckewald, Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Program Policy Office of Disability and Income Security Programs, Social Security Administration
  • Steve Schaeffer, Assistant Inspector General for the Office of Audit, Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General
  • Richard Stana, Director of Homeland Security and Justice, Government Accountability Office
  • Tyler Moran, Employment Policy Director, National Immigration Law Center, Boise, Idaho
  • Angelo I. Amador, Director of Immigration Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Sue Meisinger, The Human Resource Initiative for a Legal Workforce, Society for Human Resource Management, Alexandria, Virginia
  • Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center

Additional hearing information, including the testimony of the other witnesses, are available on the committee website (check back later for transcripts).

The Subcommittee is responsible for oversight of the Social Security Administration, one of two agencies that would handle the implementation and operation of the EEVS (the Department of Homeland Security is the other). As the SSA has had trouble making disability determinations in a timely fashion (currently disability applicants need to wait several months, if not years), the subcommittee members – on both sides of the aisle – were skeptical of the SSA’s capability to handle the increased burden. The government witnesses were optimistic, assuming the resources and personnel were available. However, the additional costs for the SSA to ramp up are considerable.

The non-government witnesses spoke of the many different problems the EEVS, as currently deployed in the Basic Pilot and as it would be deployed under the legislation. Dr. Neumann spoke to the challenges of large computer systems, and their lackluster track record. Other witnesses spoke to the problems inherent in the current high error rates (eight percent); the difficulty in correcting erroneous information, false positives or false negatives; the security and privacy concerns over a system intended to work over the Internet, and the potential for abuse of the system by employers and employees.

To be clear, the subcommittee was of a consensus that some improvements to employment verification was necessary. While the Members do not expect the proposed system to fulfill the desired policy goals, they do think some system is necessary. While the Senate immigration bill failed this week, the EEVS will be revisited sometime in the future.