Navajo woman heads firm doing work for FBI, BIA

By Sue Major Holmes
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) November 2010

The FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are working with an Albuquerque company owned and operated by a Navajo woman to expedite fingerprinting and background checks on prospective workers - particularly those who might come into contact with children - for American Indian tribes and tribal organizations.

The FBI has been handling fingerprints submitted through the BIA since 1996. Prints generally were done the old-fashioned way - rolling someone's fingers in ink, rolling the inked prints onto a card, then mailing the cards to the FBI.

Under a new agreement, Personnel Security Consultants Inc., known as PSC, will submit prints by electronic scanner, which will speed up the process for criminal history checks mandated by the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act.

Michele Justice, the Navajo woman who owns PSC, said her firm will be the go-between that provides fingerprint technical assistance and training services for more than 200 tribes.

The old system took three to six months to return results, forcing tribes to choose between losing a prospective employee to someone who could hire faster or taking a chance on someone before completing a background investigation, Justice said.

Electronic scanning allows the checks to be done faster, within five days, Justice said. Special cases, such as in placing children in emergency foster care, can be turned around within 24 hours.

The requirement for background checks under the child protection law covers anyone in regular contact with children - from teachers and school bus drivers to health or social service workers to police officers, who could have to take a child into custody at any time, Justice said. It covers volunteers, consultants and contractors as well as regular employees.

The company handles fingerprints of about 1,000 people each month, Justice said.

PSC also trains tribal workers on how to do background investigations, as well as determining an individual's suitability for a particular job, she said.

The BIA asked the company to do training on taking fingerprints because too many "unclassifiable" prints were coming in.

"No matter how fast we can submit electronically, if they're bad prints, they're bad prints," Justice said. "... We teach them to make sure before they submit (prints) to us, they analyze them enough to say, 'This is pretty good."'

Justice is proud of PSC's training - to the point she keeps a framed letter rejecting her company for a contract on background investigations. PSC was outbid for a contract by a Rosebud Sioux tribal program Justice had trained, she said.

Justice, who grew up in Albuquerque, started her company in 2004 after six years with the BIA.

"I saw this continuing issue - the tribes would ask for help and there was just no real help for them," she said. "There is no way for the BIA, with all its work, to respond rapidly."

She bought a projector and a laptop and started training. Her first client was the Hopi Tribe in Arizona.

Justice said her tribal background gives her firm a cultural advantage.

She recalled being in Pine Ridge, S.D., in August to train tribal workers in the difficult subject of recognizing and reporting child abuse. She found herself in a business suit facing 110 people, all dressed casually.

"I introduced myself not as Michele, the instructor, but as Michele, a Dine (Navajo) woman," she said. She told everyone who her family is, who her clan is, and spent 15 to 20 minutes telling stories about her life.

After that, she said, "You can feel it: OK, we're connected. Let's do some training."