Interactive: Public Agencies With Access to Employment Data

Nearly 100 local government entities in Texas — including police and sheriff’s departments, municipal courts, district attorney's offices and probation offices — currently purchase online access to a database that contains Texans’ employment information. That data includes Social Security numbers, places of employment and gross wages. Staffers at the Texas Workforce Commission, which maintains the database, say that allowing such access to law enforcement helps them catch "the bad guys." But some residents are concerned that routine access to sensitive, private information could easily be abused by public employees.

“There’s a false sense of security when law enforcement are engaging in this activity, because many Texans believe that law enforcement are there to protect the common good," said John Bush of Texans for Accountable Government. "Unfortunately, law enforcement are not exempt from misbehaving, acting out or even abusing their authority just because they have a badge."

Chris Calabrese, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said giving public employees access to sensitive information presents privacy concerns, because it can be hard to differentiate between legitimate uses for law enforcement and illegitimate uses, such as finding out how much a neighbor earns.

"We’ve seen law enforcement misuse databases like this in the past,” Calabrese said. “This type of information is interesting and can certainly be misused, so the question becomes, are there strong controls?”


The Tribune created this interactive map to show where the entities with access to the database are located. The workforce commission tracks the number of transactions that entities conduct within the database. Clicking on an entity on will bring up details on the number of users with access and how many transactions that entity conducted in the database in 2011. You can also use the table below to draw comparisons.


Under federal law, state and local law enforcement agencies can use the power of subpoena to get an individual’s employment information from the workforce commission. For about $1,500 a year (prices can vary by contract), local law enforcement agencies can skip that step by purchasing online access to the Texas employment database. In their contracts with the commission, the agencies must specify which employees will have access to the database, and those employees are required to undergo security training.

“It's clearly in the public interest and obviously in our authority — we’re compelled to do so," said Lisa Givens, a workforce commission spokeswoman, emphasizing that the contracts with law enforcement increase efficiency. "The program is really helpful to law enforcement in doing their job.”

The entities can use the database to help in a variety of ways, such as collecting revenue from traffic warrants, contacting witnesses or defendants in criminal investigations or checking on parolees. One agency also said the information is used to conduct background checks on prospective employees.

Some agencies ask authorized users to log why and when they accessed the database, but the workforce commission contracts do not require agencies to track employees' usage of the database. To ensure the database isn't misused, the commission's monitoring department conducts annual reviews of who is accessing the database, and onsite inspections are conducted about every three years. A workforce commission employee said the most common violation the commission encounters is police officers calling to set up a password to access the database when they aren't authorized.

Of the 9 million transactions conducted by public employees accessing the database in 2011, more than 7 million were by the child support division within the Texas attorney general’s office. The AG’s child support division uses the information to identify overdue child support payments and determine whether wages should be withheld for child support payments. The AG’s office also has a secondary contract that allows employees in their criminal investigations unit to access the employment database.

“The individuals who have access to the information are very clearly trained about the security and confidentiality provisions of this office,” said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the AG’s office.

Excluding the 2,100 employees authorized at the AG’s office, 1,368 public employees have undergone security training and are authorized to access the database. On average, city and county organizations with access have conducted 11,550 transactions each in 2011, or 781 transactions per authorized user. When the Tribune matched the transaction data with population estimates from the American Community Survey, it found that city and county organizations conducted 241 transactions per 1,000 residents in entities’ given territory.

“There’s some duplication represented in those transactions,” said Givens, adding that looking up a single Social Security number could record 100 transactions depending on the results of the search.

Some entities stood out when compared with those averages. The Pantego Municipal Court, which serves about 2,550 people, conducted nearly 23,000 transactions — 8.9 per resident — in 2011. And the Baytown Police Department, which has only one employee authorized to access the database, had the highest number of transactions per authorized user, at 4,769.

“We use it for intelligence for active criminal investigations,” said Lt. Eric Freed of the investigations division at the Baytown Police Department, adding that they do not use it to collect revenue from outstanding warrants. “If a person is employed and we’re trying to locate them for an interview, that would be a really good start to know where they are.”

But even some public employees recognize that using the employment database to contact individuals can be unsettling.

“There's something about contacting an individual at his employer and letting him know we're looking for them. It just doesn't bode well with the employer,” said Ron Hood, a Dripping Springs-based constable. He said that before his office’s access expired in 2011, it only used the database as a last resort to contact people with outstanding warrants.



Entity Name County or City
Population Estimate
Contract Terms with Texas Workforce Commission Database Usage in 2011
Cost Begin Date End Date Max Users Total Transactions Average Monthly Transactions Transactions per User Transactions per 1,000 of Population
Ferris Police Department 2052 $4,500 11/1/11 10/31/14 10 0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Harris County Constable, Precinct One 3950999 $1,500 10/1/11 9/30/12 10 1740 145.0 174.0 0.4
Denton County Criminal District Attorney 628084 $1,500 6/1/11 5/31/12 10 477 39.8 47.7 0.8
Harris County Attorney's Office 3950999 $4,575 10/1/09 9/30/12 20 3666 305.5 183.3 0.9
Harris County Constable Precinct 4 3950999 $2,100 9/1/11 8/31/12 25 4451 370.9 178.0 1.1
Midland County 132103 $1,500 10/1/11 9/30/12 10 356 29.7 35.6 2.7
Fort Bend County 541983 $4,500 8/1/10 7/31/13 10 1756 146.3 175.6 3.2
Collin County CSCD 738745 $1,500 4/1/11 3/31/12 10 2614 217.8 261.4 3.5
Travis County 979712 $4,575 10/1/09 9/30/12 20 3868 322.3 193.4 3.9
Harris County Sheriff's Office 3950999 $6,000 2/1/11 1/31/14 25 17679 1473.3 707.2 4.5
Travis County for the Benefit of Constable, Precinct 5 979712 $1,500 8/1/11 7/31/12 10 4648 387.3 464.8 4.7
Brazoria County CSCD 300522 $1,500 9/1/11 8/31/12 10 1449 120.8 144.9 4.8
Dallas County CSCD 2321014 $4,575 11/1/09 10/31/12 5 11583 965.3 2316.6 5.0
Dallas County District Attorney's Office 2321014 $4,500 4/1/11 3/31/14 10 11970 997.5 1197.0 5.2
Conroe Police Department 53270 $4,500 11/1/11 10/31/14 10 287 23.9 28.7 5.4
Tarrant CountyDistrict Attorney 1743300 $6,000 9/1/10 8/31/13 25 9730 810.8 389.2 5.6
San Angelo Municipal Court 91385 $4,500 7/1/10 6/30/13 10 568 47.3 56.8 6.2
City of White Settlement 15890 $1,500 9/1/11 8/31/12 10 100 8.3 10.0 6.3
Mission Police Department 71760 $1,500 12/1/11 11/30/12 10 520 43.3 52.0 7.2
City of Fort Worth Police Department 705349 $4,500 1/1/11 12/31/13 10 5388 449.0 538.8 7.6
Travis County District Attorney's Office 979712 $6,000 6/1/10 5/31/13 25 7686 640.5 307.4 7.8
Williamson County CSCD 391715 $4,575 2/1/10 1/31/13 20 3270 272.5 163.5 8.3
Travis County for the Benefit of Constable, Precinct 4 979712 $1,500 8/1/11 7/31/12 10 8358 696.5 835.8 8.5
Montgomery County District Attorney's Office 427717 $4,575 4/1/09 3/31/12 20 3787 315.6 189.4 8.9
City of Missouri City 64569 $1,600 8/1/11 7/31/12 10 575 47.9 57.5 8.9
San Patricio County 66100 $1,500 8/1/11 7/31/12 10 630 52.5 63.0 9.5
La Porte Police Department 33329 $3,000 12/1/11 11/30/13 0 350 29.2 - -
Lancaster Police Department 34186 $1,500 12/1/11 11/30/12 10 362 30.2 36.2 10.6
Howard County Sheriff's Office 34285 $4,500 8/1/10 7/31/13 10 377 31.4 37.7 11.0
Austin Police Department 764129 $4,500 2/1/11 1/31/14 10 8694 724.5 869.4 11.4
Harris County District Attorney's Office 3950999 $6,000 8/1/11 7/31/12 100 46463 3871.9 464.6 11.8
Bexar County Criminal District Attorney's Office 1650052 $6,000 6/1/11 5/31/14 25 19889 1657.4 795.6 12.1
Williamson County Sheriff's Office 391715 $1,500 10/1/11 9/30/12 10 5657 471.4 565.7 14.4
Grimes County Constable, PCT 1 26208 $2,250 4/1/11 9/30/12 10 510 42.5 51.0 19.5
Guadalupe County Sheriff's Office 122728 $4,500 12/1/10 11/30/13 10 2455 204.6 245.5 20.0
Lakeway Municipal Court of Record Number One 10726 $1,500 6/1/11 5/31/12 10 218 18.2 21.8 20.3
Midland County Constable, Precinct 4 132103 $4,575 9/1/09 8/31/12 20 2728 227.3 136.4 20.7
Johnson & Somervell Counties CSCD 155811 $2,000 5/1/11 8/31/12 10 3260 271.7 326.0 20.9
Upshur County Community Supervision and Correction 38685 $1,500 4/1/11 3/31/12 10 819 68.3 81.9 21.2
Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney's Office 98402 $4,575 2/1/10 1/31/13 5 2099 174.9 419.8 21.3
Travis County Sheriffs Office 979712 $7,575 4/1/10 3/31/14 25 21403 1783.6 856.1 21.8
Allen Police Department 77843 $1,500 10/1/11 9/30/12 10 1760 146.7 176.0 22.6
Montgomery County Sheriff's Office 427717 $3,000 10/1/10 9/30/12 10 10222 851.8 1022.2 23.9
City of Frisco Municipal Court 103158 $3,750 4/1/11 9/30/13 10 2468 205.7 246.8 23.9
City of Austin Municipal Court 764129 $4,500 6/1/11 5/31/14 10 19081 1590.1 1908.1 25.0
Tarrant County Sheriff's Office 1743300 $4,575 2/1/10 1/31/13 20 46771 3897.6 2338.6 26.8
Plano Police Department 256099 $1,500 5/1/11 4/30/12 10 7420 618.3 742.0 29.0
New Braunfels Police Department 54072 $4,500 1/1/12 12/31/14 0 1572 131.0 - -
Williamson County Constable Precinct 2 391715 $1,500 5/1/11 4/30/12 10 11911 992.6 1191.1 30.4
Irving Police Department 210025 $4,575 6/1/09 5/31/12 20 6943 578.6 347.2 33.1
Grayson County District Attorney's Office 119111 $1,500 8/1/11 7/31/12 10 4127 343.9 412.7 34.6
Cameron County 393566 $1,500 7/1/11 6/30/12 10 14546 1212.2 1454.6 37.0
Galveston County 286326 $2,000 8/1/11 7/31/12 25 10760 896.7 430.4 37.6
Arlington Police Department 359410 $6,000 5/1/10 4/30/13 25 13880 1156.7 555.2 38.6
Brazoria County 300522 $2,000 11/1/11 10/31/12 25 11717 976.4 468.7 39.0
Bexar County Sheriff's Office 1650052 $4,575 1/1/10 12/31/13 60 67930 5660.8 1132.2 41.2
Ellis County and District Attorney 143502 $1,500 1/1/12 12/31/12 0 6415 534.6 - -
Wise County 58054 $2,125 5/1/11 9/30/12 10 2805 233.8 280.5 48.3
Pasadena Police Department 147077 $1,500 10/1/11 9/30/12 0 7644 637.0 - -
Williamson County Constable Precinct 1 391715 $4,575 9/1/09 8/31/12 20 20649 1720.8 1032.5 52.7
Williamson County Constable Precinct 3 391715 $1,500 10/1/11 9/30/12 0 20740 1728.3 - -
Travis County for the benefit of Constable Precinct 3 979712 $6,000 2/1/11 1/31/14 25 55699 4641.6 2228.0 56.9
Williamson County Constable Precinct 4 391715 $4,500 5/1/10 4/30/13 10 24454 2037.8 2445.4 62.4
Baytown Police Department 70429 $4,575 7/1/09 6/30/12 1 4769 397.4 4769.0 67.7
San Marcos Marshal's Office 43282 $4,575 4/1/10 3/31/13 2 3060 255.0 1530.0 70.7
Travis County Constable Precinct 2 979712 $6,000 11/1/11 10/31/14 0 83337 6944.8 - -
San Marcos Police Department 43282 $4,500 1/1/12 12/31/14 0 3737 311.4 - -
Collin County 738745 $2,000 9/1/11 8/31/12 25 73950 6162.5 2958.0 100.1
Hockley County 22933 $1,500 6/1/11 5/31/12 10 2468 205.7 246.8 107.6
Grapevine Police Department 45548 $4,575 4/1/10 3/31/13 20 4974 414.5 248.7 109.2
City of Jersey Village Police Department 7450 $4,500 10/1/10 9/30/13 10 941 78.4 94.1 126.3
City of Duncanville 37778 $4,500 6/1/11 5/31/14 10 6890 574.2 689.0 182.4
Randall County 116811 $2,250 4/1/11 9/30/12 10 30247 2520.6 3024.7 258.9
North Richland Hills City Marshal's Office 61956 $4,500 11/1/10 10/31/13 10 16428 1369.0 1642.8 265.2
DeSoto Police Department 46624 $1,500 8/1/11 7/31/12 10 12902 1075.2 1290.2 276.7
City of Sugar Land Municipal Court 76080 $2,000 12/1/11 11/30/12 0 22832 1902.7 - -
Kemah Police Department 1952 $1,500 11/1/11 10/31/12 10 651 54.3 65.1 333.5
City of Baytown 70429 $1,500 6/1/11 5/31/12 10 23669 1972.4 2366.9 336.1
Round Rock Police Department 93092 $4,500 5/1/11 4/30/14 10 34168 2847.3 3416.8 367.0
Cedar Hill City Marshal's Office 42447 $4,500 6/1/11 5/31/14 10 16832 1402.7 1683.2 396.5
City of Canyon 13103 $1,500 7/1/11 6/30/12 10 6459 538.3 645.9 492.9
Westlake Marshal's Office 881 $1,500 5/1/11 4/30/12 10 460 38.3 46.0 522.1
City of Weimar Police Department 1957 $2,250 4/1/11 9/30/12 10 1167 97.3 116.7 596.3
Oak Ridge North Police Department 3061 $1,500 8/1/11 7/31/12 10 3053 254.4 305.3 997.4
City of Selma Police Department 4367 $4,500 6/1/10 5/31/13 10 13928 1160.7 1392.8 3189.4
Pantego Municipal Court 2557 $4,500 11/1/10 10/31/13 10 22950 1912.5 2295.0 8975.4
Office of the Attorney General n/a $22,680 5/1/10 4/30/13 100 356567 29713.9 3565.7 -
Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division- Enforcement n/a $150,000 9/1/07 8/31/12 2000 7052720 587726.7 3526.4 -
Texas Department of Public Safety n/a $0 9/1/10 8/31/13 200 613451 51120.9 3067.3 -
Texas Juvenile Justice Department n/a $4,500 2/1/11 1/31/14 10 8787 732.3 878.7 -
Travis County for the Benefit of Constable, Precinct 1 979712 $4,500 11/1/11 10/31/14 0 NEW CONTRACT FOR 2011 - NO ACCESS FOR 2011 - - -
Rockwall County 73311 $1,500 1/1/12 12/31/12 0 NEW CONTRACT - NO ACCESS YET - - -
Caldwell County Constable, Precinct 1 37416 $1,500 1/1/12 12/31/12 0 NEW CONTRACT - NO ACCESS APPEARS YET - - -
Cleveland Police Department 7833 $1,500 8/1/11 7/31/12 10 NO ACCESS AFTER ACCOUNT WAS SET UP - - -
Sugar Land Police Department 76080 $1,500 2/1/12 1/31/13 0 NEW CONTRACT - NO ACCESS APPEARS YET - - -
Longview Police Department 79229 $1,500 1/1/12 12/31/12 0 NEW CONTRACT - NO ACCESS APPEARS YET - - -


Through their monitoring efforts, TWC has not found any serious violations by law enforcement agencies accessing the database in the last 10 years.

There have been two “notable incidents” in which organizations with access were penalized in the last 10 years, according to a statement by the TWC; both were by federal government entities.

In 2004, after receiving a complaint from an individual that his ex-wife obtained a copy of his wage records, an investigation by the TWC found a law firm contracted by the U.S. Department of Justice had violated their contract rules and revoked the law firm’s access. And in 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Houston, which had assembled a drug trafficking task force that included other law enforcement agencies, allowed officers from other agencies to access the database through their contract. When TWC found out, the commission revoked access for the individuals who were not approved to access the information.

The TWC has also investigated 17 “minor” incidents in which employees looked up their own information, shared information with another government entity, set up passwords for another government entity under the same contract or emailed non-encrypted confidential information related to one individual. The TWC handled these incidents by requiring contracted entities to re-educate employees on how they are allowed to use the database.

In addition to officers potentially misusing the information for personal reasons, Bush said sharing Social Security numbers, which link a person to private information such as bank accounts, can make citizens more vulnerable to hackers or identify theft.

In 2011, for example, 3.5 million Texans had their Social Security numbers and employment information exposed on the web for over a year by the Texas Comptroller’s Office, which failed to set up adequate technological safeguards on their server after procuring the information from the TWC.

Givens assured the Tribune that type of data leak could not happen under their data sharing agreements with local law enforcement agencies, because unlike the agreement with the Comptroller, which kept the information on its server, the employment database shared with law enforcement agencies is kept on the TWC’s server and only authorized users have access to it through a web portal. Givens said the TWC uses a secure connection to protect the information from hackers.

“We’ve taken advantage of technology to continuously improve the safeguards,” said Givens.

Additional reporting contributed by Wes Ferguson, Hays Free Press.