Congress Holds Briefing on the Importance of Accuracy in Background Checks
October 3, 2013
Despite the ongoing government shutdown, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that some business is being conducted on Capitol Hill—namely, a Congressional briefing on background checks. Earlier this week Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) hosted a Congressional briefing focused on the National Employment Law Project (NELP) report “Wanted – Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment”. I blogged on the NELP report a few weeks ago, sharing my opinion that the report brings some important things to light—namely the glaring weaknesses in the FBI fingerprint system and the significant holes in that database.
I appreciate the work that NELP has done on this topic—a subject that needs to be publicly addressed and scrutinized. I part ways with NELP, however, when it comes to their recommendations on what to do about the failed Federal system. Instead of focusing on ways to improve the database by filling gaps, improving the completeness of the data and focusing on enforcement of existing consumer protection laws, NELP is advocating more restrictions for both private employers and the federal government alike.
You can probably tell by the title of the briefing, “The Consequences of Inaccurate Employment Background Checks”, that the conversation was going to be one sided, and based on all accounts, it was. Representatives attended on behalf of the background screening profession, but none were invited to comment or speak. A representative from the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office moderated a panel discussion, and panelists included representatives from NELP, Council on Crime and Justice, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR), AFL-CIO and the Legal Action Center. The panelists’ statements were unchallenged and the recurring theme was the NELP position that background checks create barriers for ex-offenders.
Rep. Scott and Rep. Ellison spoke about the barriers faced by ex-offenders in securing employment and their push to clean up the FBI’s records and provide individuals with greater due process to correct their records. They have introduced legislation to this effect which is pending in the House Judiciary Committee including HR 2999 – the Accurate Background Check Act and HR 2865 – the Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act.
Notably absent was a representative from the FBI. Also missing was any discussion about the benefit of criminal background checks and the role they play in providing safe workplaces for both federal workers and private companies alike. In fact, there was little discussion about completeness or accuracy of records at all. Instead, the panelists seem to have focused on issues like ban the box, the EEOC criminal guidance on employment background checks, and the potential danger of disparate impact discrimination against minorities.
By all accounts the briefing seems to have missed the mark. The FBI system is broken. Moreover, laws that solely require an FBI fingerprint seriously limit an employer’s options. They dictate the use of a source that is admittedly inferior and incomplete. I agree with at least one of NELP’s conclusions– that the FBI needs to get its act together and improve the quality of its database. And Congress needs to step up and help in that effort. Lives are at stake. Employers should, at the same time, have the option to use private background screening companies with a proven record for accuracy and complete information.
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