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Was state staffer ordered to check out ‘Joe the Plumber’?

by on
in Employment Background Check,Human Resources

Vanessa Niekamp, senior child support manager at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), said she feared for her job when she approached the inspector general about background checks performed on Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as “Joe the Plumber.”

The day after the Oct.15 presidential debate that catapulted “Joe the Plumber” to fame, a supervisor asked Niekamp to run Wurzelbacher’s name through the agency’s computer to see whether he owed child support.

Niekamp said she did not know who Wurzelbacher was at the time and thought it was a routine check. One week later, Doug Thompson, deputy director for child support, reportedly “dictated to her the exact wording of an e-mail” and “demanded” that she send it to the agency’s chief privacy officer. The e-mail stated that she had run the check for child support purposes. The next day, Niekamp went to Inspector General Thomas Charles.

Helen Jones-Kelly, ODJFS director, said the checks were not politically motivated and that the agency frequently conducts them on people who become suddenly famous.

The explanation did not fly with Charles, who declared Jones-Kelly’s authorization of the searches “improper.” His investigation also found that the e-mail Thompson ordered Niekamp to send was “an attempt to deceive.”

In all, the inspector general’s report found that state agencies conducted 18 searches on Wurzelbacher. Eight were done “by various agencies without any legitimate business purpose,” the report said.

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