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  • Michael Kirkpatrick
  • Assistant Director in Charge, Criminal Justice Information Services Division
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Before the House Judiciary Committee
  • Washington DC
  • March 30, 2004

Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am Michael D. Kirkpatrick and I am the Assistant Director in Charge of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI. I thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee in order to discuss the FBI's fingerprint identification program.

Since 1924, the FBI has been the national repository for fingerprints and related criminal history data. At that time, 810,188 fingerprint records from the National Bureau of Criminal Identification and Leavenworth penitentiary were consolidated to form the nucleus of the FBI's files. Over the years, the size of our fingerprint files has grown and the demand for the program's services has steadily increased. Our fingerprint holdings are divided into two categories - criminal and civil. Today, the FBI's master criminal fingerprint file contains the records of approximately 47 million individuals, while our civil file represents approximately 30.7 million individuals. The civil file predominantly contains fingerprints of individuals who have served or are serving in the U.S. military or have been or are employed by the federal government.

A criminal card is exactly as the name implies. It is the fingerprints of an individual who has been arrested and charged with a crime. A civil card is submitted regarding an individual who is seeking employment in certain positions, such as federal employment, the military, or the banking/securities industry; or is adopting a child; seeking U.S. citizenship; or serving as a volunteer (e.g., at a child or senior day care center) and requires a national fingerprint background check as part of the screening process. Civil fingerprint checks are submitted to the FBI based upon a specific federal law authorizing a national fingerprint background check, or based upon a state statute or a municipal ordinance, if authorized by a state statute, authorizing a national background check in compliance with Public Law 92-544.

For its first 75 years of existence, the processing of incoming fingerprint cards by the FBI was predominantly a manual, time consuming, labor intensive process. Fingerprint cards were mailed to the FBI for processing and a paper-based response was mailed back. It would take anywhere from weeks to months to process a fingerprint card.

However, that all changed on july 28, 1999, with the implementation of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS. The IAFIS was the dawn of a new era for the FBI's fingerprint identification program as it permits the processing of all incoming fingerprint submissions in a totally electronic environment.

Every day, the FBI receives nearly 50,000 fingerprint submissions, which are sent to us in either an electronic format or paper-based. The paper-based submissions are converted to an electronic format prior to processing on the IAFIS. During fiscal year 2003, the FBI received a total of 17,736,541 fingerprint submissions. Of this total, 48 percent, or approximately 8.6 million, were civil fingerprint submissions. Of the nearly 8.6 million civil submissions, 73 percent, or slightly more than 6.2 million, were sent to us electronically.

In addition to the electronic or paper-based methods of submitting fingerprints to the FBI, there are two paths a civil fingerprint may travel. The most common method starts with the fingerprinting of an individual at a booking station. The prints are forwarded to the authorized state agency for a check against state records. The state agency then forwards the prints to the FBI for a national background check. This method complies with Public Law 92-544 and provides a more complete background check.

The second path involves the use of a channeling agency, such as the American Bankers Association, ABA, or the Office of Personnel Management, OPM. The ABA and the OPM, for example, serve as a single point for forwarding civil fingerprint checks directly to the FBI. Under this method, only a national background check is conducted.

Our goal for civil fingerprint cards electronically submitted to the FBI is to process and provide a response within 24 hours. Today, we are meeting this goal 99 percent of the time, and our average response time is approximately two hours. Once paper-based submissions are received by the FBI they are converted to an electronic format, injected into the IAFIS for processing, a paper-based response is generated, and that response is then mailed to the contributor. It takes between five and ten business days from the time a paper-based civil card is mailed to the FBI and a response is received by the contributor.

So, what is the benefit of conducting civil fingerprint background checks? Our statistics show an annual hit rate of 12 percent. This equates to approximately 900,000 checks per year being identified to individuals with existing criminal history records. In addition to the fingerprint check, all civil submissions undergo a name-based search of the subject against the wanted person file and the terrorist watch list located within the national crime information center.

The FBI charges a fee for processing civil fingerprint submissions. Our fee for this service ranges from $16 to $22 depending on the type of service requested. The FBI uses this money to offset the overhead and operational costs of providing this service, and for maintenance and technological refreshments to our national computerized databases.

As Congress considers expanding the occupations and professions which require fingerprint-based background checks, I believe it must also consider the vital need to develop a comprehensive national infrastructure to support such checks, including the means of collecting the required fingerprints, and processing the checks. Specifically, many law enforcement agencies, such as police departments and jail facilities, which typically are the starting point for the capture of fingerprints, do not have the resources to capture the prints for a significantly higher volume of new civil checks, either electronically or manually. In addition, for most of these non-criminal justice checks, a law enforcement agency is not the most appropriate venue for collecting the prints. State identification bureaus, which also play a key role in this process, are likewise often under-equipped and under-staffed. This limits the ability to conduct a thorough and timely civil checks and could eventually result in the need to institute some type of prioritization of such checks as the existing infrastructure becomes overloaded.

While the answers to the questions I have just raised are currently undetermined, the FBI, Department of Justice, and our partners are in the process of finalizing the feasibility study required by Section 108(d) of the “Protect Cct,” Public Law no. 108-21, legislation enacted last year to provide new investigative and prosecutorial remedies and other tools to combat the exploitation of children. This study is required to address fourteen specific areas, such as “the cost of development and operation of . . . the infrastructure necessary to establish a nationwide fingerprint-based and other criminal background check system.” The study will begin to answer many of the questions concerning how best to develop such a national infrastructure to accommodate the increasing demand for fingerprint-based background checks.

In closing, I would like to invite the members of the committee to visit the FBI West Virginia complex and personally see our dyanamic fingerprint program and state-of-the-art facilities. I again thank you for the privilege to appear before this committee. I am available for any questions you may have.

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