WASHINGTON (AP) _ One of Vice President Gore's attempts to improve government _ by erasing a massive backlog of citizenship applications _ produced such confusion that thousands of people became citizens without adequate background checks, the Justice Department says.

The rush to naturalize 1.2 million new citizens in fiscal year 1996 ``compromised the integrity'' of the process at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, according to a report released Monday by the Justice Department's inspector general.

The report said there is no evidence that the 1996 presidential election motivated the crash program, but at least one official in Gore's government-reinvention office told investigators he felt pressure to have the backlog erased in time for the new citizens to vote in November.

The 684-page report concluded that there was no evidence to support critics' claims that the crash ``Citizenship USA'' program, a part of Gore's government reinvention effort, was designed to influence the election or ``further inappropriate political ends.''

About 1.2 million people were given citizenship from October 1995 to September 1996 under the program that eliminated a massive backlog of nearly 500,000 citizenship cases at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. At the time, the waiting period for citizenship was as much as three years.

Critics complained that the rush program was aimed at producing hundreds of thousands of new voters who were likely to vote Democratic in the 1996 presidential election in November. The program succeeded in erasing the backlog by Sept. 31, 1996.

Neither the White House nor officials at the National Performance Review Office _ Gore's government-reinvention operation _ intervened to lower standards or change procedures to get applicants naturalized in time to vote, the report said.

But the National Performance Review Office was aggressively involved in pressing for a speedup of applications at INS early in the program, the report said.

At least one NPR official, Douglas Farbrother, ``believed that the (citizenship) program had a deadline that was directly connected to the upcoming election,'' although others at NPR viewed it as a good government initiative, the report said.

In March 1996, Farbrother raised concerns with Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick and senior INS officials that the program was lagging behind schedule and made his views known to the extent that Gorelick threw him out of his office, according to the investigators.

Farbrother told investigators that he understood that citizenship applicants had to be naturalized in time to register to vote in the November 1996 election and that ``this was one motive for the NPR's involvement'' in the Citizenship USA program, according to the report.

But the report concluded that while some may have hoped for political benefit, ``we did not find evidence that officials of INS or the (Justice) Department adopted this as a goal.'' After May 1996, the NPR had little involvement in the program, the report said.

Still, the investigators found that the crash program _ which intensified even more after the March meeting in Gorelick's office _ put quantity over quality and ``compromised the naturalization process.''

The investigation, involving 1,800 interviews and review of 80,000 pages of documents, confirmed media reports at the time that the INS had processed applicants so quickly that in many cases citizenship was granted before the INS received criminal background checks from the FBI.

Investigators found at least 1,300 such cases in Chicago, 2,500 in Los Angeles and nearly 1,000 in Miami. There likely were tens of thousands of cases where applications were approved without complete background checks, according to the investigators. But the report said there was no way to determine how many unqualified individuals might have gained citizenship.

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On the Net: Justice Department's inspector general: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/ighp01.htm