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The Architect of the Capitol's office has hired illegal immigrants to work on the Capitol grounds, a well-placed source told Roll Call on Thursday.
The source, who asked not to be more specifically identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the AOC Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation that found a number of such workers on the payroll.
They were hired or contracted, the investigation found, as a result of a lax approach to background checks or holes in the agency's process for performing the checks, the source said.
The report that resulted from the investigation, which contains recommendations for strengthening background checks of AOC employees, has been transmitted to senior leadership with the AOC and Capitol Police, the source said.
AOC Inspector General Carol Bates declined to comment on the investigation and the report, as did Democratic and Republican staffers for the House Administration Committee, which oversees Congressional operations and would likely be aware of the probe.
AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said she could not get into specifics of the inspector general's work. She did, however, defend the agency's hiring practices.
"The AOC and its contractors utilize the E-Verify system to confirm the eligibility of newly hired employees, and have used it since the law was enacted in 2007," Malecki said of the voluntary government-run program that helps employers verify whether a job applicant is in the country legally. "In addition, new hires, whether they are AOC employees or contractors, undergo fingerprinting and criminal background checks by the U.S. Capitol Police."
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, whose institutional knowledge dates back a decade - he served as chief of the Capitol Police from 2002 to 2006 before being sworn in as Sergeant-at-Arms in 2007 - backed up Malecki's defense of the office.
"I believe the hiring practices in the institutions up here, whether it's the Senate, the House, the AOC, we abide by all the rules and verification of people's legitimate right to hold a job," Gainer said.
While defending AOC hiring practices in general, neither Malecki nor Gainer directly addressed the charges that the office had hired illegal workers."
In a further twist in the investigation, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), a long-time advocate for stricter immigration policies, says night-shift maintenance workers could be behind the recent rash of thefts in House Member's offices, including his own and said they could also be illegal immigrants.
The retiring lawmaker's suggestion came last week from Capitol Hill law enforcement, he told Roll Call.
"Is it possible people are working in the U.S. Capitol who have a key to my office, who have no legal rights to be here in the United States?" Gallegly recalls asking. The authorities, he said, responded: "yes."
Gallegly called it a "walk in, not a break-in."
The Capitol Police and House Sergeant-at-Arms have not publicly revealed the identity of any suspects related to the burglaries that have occurred sporadically over the past several months.
But an informed source confirmed to Roll Call that Gallegly was given information about the IG report on illegal workers in the AOC office.
One question Gallegly raised was whether maintenance workers hired through contractors were especially likely to be illegal immigrants. Malecki said that only a small portion of maintenance activities on the Capitol campus are performed by contracted workers.
Malecki said she doubts the culprit was a contract worker, who, she said, wouldn't have unlimited access to Members' offices.
"Contracted workers are never given master keys. A key tracking system is used when access to Members' offices is required and it involves workers signing out keys and returning them once the work is completed."
The breadth and scope of the inspector general's concerns will likely be revealed in the office's next semi-annual report to Congress, which, while not published online, is available to the public upon request. It will be released in October.