NY Times Editorial Focuses On Flawed FBI Background Checks

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

A recent New York Times editorial – Check It Again – focused on a new bill in the House of Representatives that would require the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to verify and correct criminal data before issuing background checks for employment purposes, thus fixing the problem of many Americans missing a chance to get hired (as if it wasn’t hard enough to find a job these days) because the FBI background checks employers use to screen job applicants contain incomplete or inaccurate information.

A common problem with FBI background checks, according to the NY Times editorial, is that the criminal records included in those FBI background checks fail to include the final disposition of a case, meaning that the records may only show that a job applicant was arrested but not that the charges were dismissed or that there was no conviction.

The editorial also cites a 2009 report from the National Employment Law Project that revealed the government had mistakenly denied credentials to tens of thousands of workers – partly because of flawed background reports – after Congress required new FBI background checks for about 1.5 million people working at the nation’s ports. The editorial concludes that no one – including the nearly 50 million Americans with arrest or conviction records – should be denied a job because the government’s information contained in an FBI employment background check is wrong.

An earlier story on ESR News explained the bill – called the Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act of 2010 (H.R.5300) – would provide safeguards with respect to FBI criminal background checks prepared for employment purposes and require the Attorney General to find out the outcome of arrests from court offices when an employer requests a background check. The attorney general would update the record in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, a computerized index of criminal information available to Federal, state, and local law enforcement 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

In addition, 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.

A 2005 report – “The National Crime Information Center: A Review and Evaluation” – sponsored by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) reviewed the FBI’s 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.  

For more information on FBI background checks and 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.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/opinion/27thu3.html

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

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

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

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