Bill Would Strengthen Accuracy of Employment Background Checks Using FBI Criminal Database

By Les Rosen, President of ESR & Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

Employers that rely on criminal records databases to conduct background checks on potential employees also rely on the accuracy of the information in those databases. Now a federal bill introduced in the House would help to strengthen the accuracy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) criminal records database by requiring the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to verify that crime data contained in the FBI’s database is up to date.

As reported on NextGov.com, the Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act of 2010 (H.R.5300) – which would provide safeguards with respect to the FBI criminal background checks prepared for employment purposes – would require the attorney general to find out from court offices, even those in state and local jurisdictions, the outcome of arrests when an employer requests a background check.

In addition, the attorney general would update that record in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, and would have 10 days to update the record after discovering an arrest was dismissed in court before responding to the employer’s request.

According to NextGov.com, employers consult the FBI’s NCIC database – which is a computerized index of criminal justice information available to Federal, state, and local law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – to conduct background checks on individuals applying for jobs in law enforcement and security, and for jobs working with vulnerable people such as children and the elderly.

The bill H.R.5300 was introduced in response to “The Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks” in 2006 that showed nearly 50 percent of criminal records maintained in the NCIC database failed to note court decisions to dismiss arrests, NextGov.com reported. To help avoid inaccurate or incomplete employment background checks, the legislation would give job applicants the opportunity to challenge the accuracy and completeness of background check reports done through the FBI records database. If criminal records are challenged, the attorney general would have 30 days to investigate, make changes, and report those changes to the applicant and the employer.

Some background check experts agree the Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act of 2010 may help fill the gaps in the FBI’s criminal database.

“Although the NCIC data is the closet thing that exists to a national criminal database, it is not nearly as complete as portrayed in the movies,” stated Les Rosen, President of Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a nationwide employment screening company. “Many records of crime do not make it into the system because of the chain of events that must happen in multiple jurisdictions in order for a crime to appear in NCIC.” 

According to Rosen, author of The Safe Hiring Manual: How To Keep Criminals, Terrorists, and Imposters Out of Your Workplace, employers cannot even access the NCIC unless they are specifically authorized to by law. “There is simply no national computer database of all criminal records available to private employers,” says Rosen.

A 2005 report – “The National Crime Information Center: A Review and Evaluation” – sponsored by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), of which Rosen is a past co-chair, reviewed the NCIC to evaluate its effectiveness in maintaining accurate and complete criminal history records. Among the findings of the NAPBS report were:

  • Many states did not report information concerning dispositions, declinations to prosecute, failure to charge after fingerprinting, and expungements.
  • Inconsistency in the reporting requirements and criminal codes in various states impacted the completeness and accuracy of the records.
  • There were significant time lapses between when information was transmitted to the state repository and actual entry into the criminal history records.
  • The format and terminology used by the various states created problems of interpretation for individuals in other states using the information.

For more information on the FBI’s NCIC criminal records database – and the reasons why the information contained in that database is sometimes not always entirely accurate – visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com.

Sources:

http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20100518_2029.php?oref=topnews

http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h5300/text

http://www.justice.gov/olp/ag_bgchecks_report.pdf

http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fbi/is/ncic.htm

http://www.napbs.com/files/members/Resources/NCIC_Report.pdf