2/2/2012 Public Records Under Further Attack

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This week the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is considering a long-term reauthorization and reform of federal transportation programs as part of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act.  Subtitle D of the proposed changes creates a national clearinghouse for records related to alcohol and controlled substances testing of commercial motor vehicle operators.  Great idea, right? Alcohol and controlled substance records are critical pieces of the background screening process for commercial drivers.

There is just one big problem.  As currently written, third party providers are denied access to the clearinghouse records.  So for employers who rely upon third parties to screen drivers on their behalf, any benefit from a national clearinghouse will be lost.  If the legislation goes forward without amendment, access will be limited to employers and individual drivers.  In fact, to add insult to injury, third party access by anyone other than an employer or individual may carry with it civil and criminal penalties. Special interests are at work here (surprise surprise), and if allowed to go unchecked, significant information sources will be denied those who have a legitimate use. Third parties are enlisted by companies both large and small to help employers maintain a safe workplace and safe highways and roads by screening applicants.

Meanwhile, down the hall at Ways and Means, U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, held a hearing on Thursday, February 2, 2012 questioning the accuracy and uses of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.  This file is a key source of information in the background screening process, as it can reveal when an applicant is using the social security number of someone who is deceased.  Sound far-fetched? It happens. Trust me.

Ironically, Chairman Johnson argues that the Death Master File should no longer be public in order to cut down on identity theft.  He introduced H.R. 3475, the ‘Keeping IDs Safe Act of 2011,’ a bill that would stop Social Security from making this information public. This disconnect between a well-intended proposal and the actual use and benefit of the availability of public records is becoming the norm. Every week we are hearing about new efforts to limit use of public records, remove identifiers, and restrict access.

Rest assured that background screening companies and organizations like the National Association of Background Screeners are working to educate and amend legislation, but it is an uphill battle. We appreciate the support of employers in advancing our joint cause.

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