‘Glaring failure’ in criminal and sex offender background checks for professional license applicants

BOSTON — The state agency that oversees the granting of professional licenses for hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts workers is falling short when it comes to criminal and sex offender background checks on those applicants, according to a newly-released audit.

Auditor Suzanne Bump’s report finds the the Division of Professional Licensure (DPL), which is now referred to as the Division of Occupational Licensure, has been unable to determine whether its boards and commissions were performing Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) and Sex Offender Record Information (SORI) checks before professional licenses were issued, and it’s been a problem for years.

“DPL’s failure to ensure criminal background checks were being conducted by its boards and commissions is a glaring failure in administration, one which the agency has now acknowledged. Now that DPL is in the process of an organizational overhaul, the time is ripe to address deficiencies in the licensure and background check process,” according to Bump. “While this is not the first time that our office has identified the need for corrective action at DPL, it is my hope that our recommendations from this audit are acted upon swiftly to ensure the safety of patrons and residents” Bump said.

According to its website, The DPL is responsible for oversight of 28 boards of registration, as well as the Office of Public Safety and Inspections and the Office of Private Occupational School Education. DOL boards and offices license and regulate more than 580,000 individuals, businesses, and schools to engage in over 150 trades and professions in Massachusetts. Workers in those trades include plumbers, real estate brokers, psychologists, chiropractors, optometrists, home inspectors, architects, etc.

This was the second audit in five years of the agency.

The audit examined the period of July 1, 2017 through March 31, 2020 and relied on information from DPL’s two software programs.

During the audit period, for 67 percent of the 61,720 individuals that were granted licenses, CORI information was not available; SORI information was not available for 25,918 individuals (42 percent). While the Office of Public Safety and Inspections (OPSI) requires CORI checks of applications for 9 of its 85 license types, OPSI issued 31,740 licenses during the audit period, 99 percent of which had no CORI information available.

In addition to enforcing existing requirements for CORI and SORI checks, the audit makes other significant recommendations. One is that DPL provide guidance to boards and commissions which currently do not have background check rules in assessing whether their licensees pose a risk to vulnerable populations and, therefore should be background checked before being licensed. The second is that background checks be conducted upon license renewal, not just at license issuance.

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