SPRINGFIELD — Workers who process Firearm Owner's Identification card applications for the Illinois State Police earned more than a half million dollars in overtime during a two-year period, according to an audit released today.
By Jayette Bolinski
SPRINGFIELD — Workers who process Firearm Owner's Identification card applications for the Illinois State Police earned more than a half million dollars in overtime during a two-year period, according to an audit released Thursday.
The audit, sought by state lawmakers, also reveals that thousands of customer phone calls to the division that handles Firearm Owners Identification cards went unanswered, that there continue to be significant delays processing FOID card applications and that thousands of FOID cards were not delivered to applicants.
"Our audit concluded that the effectiveness of the FOID card program is limited in promoting and protecting the safety of the public," the audit states.
Among the findings:
The State Police spent nearly $527,000 on overtime pay for employees to process FOID cards between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2011. Of that, three employees accounted for more than $239,000 of the overtime pay.
Workers were unable to approve or deny all FOID card requests within 30 days, as required by law. During 2008, 2009 and 2010, only 64 percent of the applications were approved within a month, and only 71 percent of them were denied during the required time frame.
Logs of customer-service calls to the FOID division show that 85 percent of the calls in late 2010 – a total of 29,420 calls – were not answered.
More than 20,000 FOID cards were revoked by the state police in 2008, 2009 and 2010, but only 30 percent of the cards were returned to the agency by the cardholders.
As of September 2011, more than 6,200 undeliverable FOID cards had been returned to the state police, and workers were not trying to determine why.
State Rep. Richard Morthland, R-Cordova, requested the audit in April 2011 after the Illinois State Police told him and members of the Illinois House that the agency's FOID division was too small and overworked. Lawmakers and gun supporters have criticized the agency for a backlog that began as early as 2009, when applications unexpectedly jumped from 1,000 to 1,500 a day to 2,500 to 3,000 a day.
State Police at the time said many applicants had never owned guns and told them they were concerned that with a new presidential administration, the federal government was prepared to take away citizens' guns.
Morthland said he was surprised by the amount of overtime pay workers in the FOID division had accumulated.
"That's a big number. It's kind of staggering, but at the same time, if I were to talk to a representative of the State Police right now, I think their response would be, 'See, we told you,'" he said, noting that it is unclear if hiring more people is the answer.
"Obviously, we don't want to be paying inordinate amounts of money on overtime, but we'll have to see."
Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police, said several factors have contributed to the backlog — a lack of manpower brought on by state budget constraints, a record number of FOID applications and the complexities involved with background checks. For example, applications by men and women with criminal backgrounds take more time than those for people who have never been arrested.
"The FOID system is also an aged and outdated system written over 40 years ago with limitations, making it difficult to incorporate revisions due to changes in the law," she said.
Bond was not immediately able to provide additional information about the workers who earned the overtime. She said there were 26 to 32 employees in the division during the audit period. Today, there are 29 employees in the FOID division, while there were 41 in 2000.
She said Thursday the division has been running about three to four weeks behind, beyond the required 30-day period. "More than 50 percent of the applications without criminal issues are processed and mailed within one week of being received. The backlog is a result of those applications that require more scrutiny. We cannot compromise public safety."
Bond said the agency is working to make improvements. Jessica Trame, the former chief of staff to a string of Illinois State Police directors, recently was put in charge of the FOID division. Workers are looking at ways to streamline the operation and to use technology more efficiently.
"But even with next-generation technology, the time required to check and cross-reference backgrounds and criminal history cannot be rushed," Bond said. "There are areas where more manpower to address some of the customer-service calls can be addressed, and we are considering options in that area."
Legislation is pending that would abolish the requirement of FOID cards in Illinois. State Sen. Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, introduced Senate Bill 3340 in February, which would repeal the Firearm Owner's Identification Act.
As of January 2011, 1.3 million Illinoisans had active FOID cards, which are good for 10 years.