After the arrest of a high-ranking Department of Education official and the subsequent revelation that his background check was never completed despite years of DOE employment, the city's Department of Investigation's background check process is once again under scrutiny.

David Hay was fired from his position as Deputy Chief of Staff to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza immediately after Wisconsin authorities arrested him for allegedly using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime on December 29th; he was then hit with federal charges for allegedly using a dating app to lure a minor into having sex and possession of child pornography on January 3rd.

Many city agencies run background checks for all kinds of public positions, but detailed scrutinizing by the Department of Investigation is typically reserved for senior, sensitive or high-paying jobs such as Hay's position.

“Those subject to background investigations include all managerial positions, individuals earning more than $100,000 annually, all individuals directly involved in City contracts and individuals who work on the City's computer programs and other sensitive positions,” the DOI website says. The agency's Background Investigation Unit handles thousands of these background checks each year.

Hay was hired by the Department of Education in 2016 but his complete background check languished as part of a nearly 6,000-case backlog, according to the DOI. Depending on the specific city agency's discretion, new employees can start their jobs even while their DOI background checks are pending, DOI spokeswoman Diane Struzzi said.

"It would not be feasible to conduct and complete all background investigations prior to commencement of employment for all employees subject to a background investigation. DOI’s guidelines allow City agencies up to 30 days from appointment, promotion, or transfer to forward a completed background package to DOI," Struzzi said in an email. "Ultimately, the decision about whether to wait for the outcome of a background investigation before allowing an employee to begin working is made by the hiring agency, not by DOI."

The DOE said last week the department did perform two separate background checks on Hay in 2016 and 2018 that included fingerprint checks; the Special Commissioner of Investigation for New York City Schools is investigating.

The DOE did not immediately respond to questions Tuesday about why their employees can start work without completing the DOI background check process and details of the agency's own background check process.

The New York Post reported that the SCI had previously received reports of Hay's behavior on his social media accounts, a charge the agency refuted on Monday with a statement saying the SCI investigation began after his arrest.

"Recent reports that SCI had previously received allegations of wrongdoing by Hay are patently untrue and misleading to the public," said Regina Gluzmanova, SCI's Public Information Officer, in an email statement.

"The matter was referred to us for investigation and we decline further comment," Struzzi said of the SCI reports.

The DOI's background check is meant to complement individual agencies' processes, with priority given to commissioner or deputy commissioner-level hires, Struzzi said.

"DOI background investigations explore a candidate’s employment and educational histories to ensure their veracity, as well as previous arrest history, tax compliance, and other factors that could pose corruption hazards. DOI investigations are meant to enhance a hiring agency’s internal hiring process. DOI cannot comment on individual agencies’ hiring practices; however, it is important to note that DOE does its own criminal history checks of candidates," she said in an emailed statement.

The DOI's 50-page background questionnaire ranges from vetting applicants’ social media accounts to disclosing business relationships with the city, as well as gathering information about associating with people “known or reputed to be a member or associate of an organized crime or terrorist group,” and even asking if the applicant has ever had to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination—and if so, why?

Required paperwork includes any firearm licenses or permits, divorce papers, or orders of protection.

The Department of Education has grown the most of any city agency since 2014, according to good government watchdog Citizens Budget Commission—the DOE gained 10,231 full-time teaching and administrative positions as well as 2,119 civilian positions. Overall, the city has added about 36,000 full-time positions since 2014, for a grand total of roughly 326,000, according to the CBC.

Given the amount of information that’s submitted for the detailed background checks, in March 2019, DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett asked the city to allow her agency to hire 13 more people for the Background Investigations Unit.

“I see no other way for DOI to carry out its mandate of conducting and completing essential background investigations, clear the backlog in less than five years, and eventually move the Unit to a goal of completing all background investigations in an average of 120 days or fewer,” she said in her testimony to the City Council during budget hearings last year.

Garnett, who joined the DOI in 2018, also explained how the backlog grew. "While DOI’s Background Unit has always had some backlog, it has increased over the past several years due to a larger number of incoming requests for background investigations. Without additional staff, the majority of these requests became part of the backlog and, in some cases, are still a part of it. For instance, approximately 1,900 routine background investigations are still open from 2016, a year that DOI received 3,731 background investigation requests."

"Let me provide a glimpse into the volume of the problem on a monthly basis," she continued in her budget testimony. "In FY 2018, DOI’s Background Unit received an average of approximately 236 new investigations each month, while closing an average of approximately 193 investigations per month. Even with that kind of close rate, the backlog was increasing by approximately 42 investigations each month."

When news broke that Hay’s full, DOI background check was never completed, Garnett released a statement saying the agency had already re-organized to tackle the backlog.

"Although it is not clear whether a completed background investigation would have revealed information relevant to the current charge against Mr. Hay, the risks presented by this example are exactly why I took immediate steps to assess and then reorganize the Background Investigation Unit,” she said in a December 31st statement.

The City Council approved the 13 new DOI positions and six of the jobs have already been filled, with another six investigators and one administrative assistant pending approval to begin employment, Struzzi said. With the DOI's structural reorganization, new background check requests are now expected to take six months or less.

The city's background check process came under fire last year as well when documents revealed that Mayor Bill de Blasio's former deputy chief of staff Kevin O'Brien, fired after sexual harassment accusations, had also been previously ousted from another political job in Washington D.C. for a similar misconduct allegation.

The head of the City Council's Committee on Oversight and Investigations, Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres, told Gothamist/WNYC that he thought devoting more funding to the Background Investigation Unit needed to be a "priority" in the upcoming budget cycle.

"As the example of David Hay demonstrates, dangerous people could be falling through the cracks. The hiring of David Hay represents a failure of public safety. The city had four years to conduct a background check. It never did," he said. "The delay is inexcusable. It's unacceptable that a deputy chief of staff in a $34 billion city agency never underwent a simple background check."

Additional reporting by Gwynne Hogan/WNYC