By Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Staff Writer

The New York Times recently printed a letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) responding to an earlier Times editorial — Check It Again — that discussed the accuracy of data the FBI relies on when performing criminal background checks. The text of the letter, titled Reliability of F.B.I. Data, is as follows:

To the Editor:

The F.B.I. takes its role as a central repository for criminal justice information very seriously, but must rely on the voluntary submissions of criminal history records supplied by local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies, and the courts, for the overwhelming majority of its information.

While the F.B.I. appreciates this support, vital data often fails to get to the bureau in a timely way because of the time lag in criminal prosecutions. To help find ways to capture this information more efficiently, the F.B.I. formed an interagency task force to identify problem areas in states disposition reporting and methods to improve the system. The F.B.I. also oversees another task force to improve the flow of criminal history information from the courts to the state repositories and then to the F.B.I.

The F.B.I. is also working on internal improvements, including the Next Generation Identification program, an upgrade to the existing fingerprint identification system, which will improve disposition reporting, while a related initiative will enable efficient electronic updates.

Through advances in technology and the continued cooperation of our partners, the F.B.I. hopes to clear the way for additional improvements in the completeness of the background check information we provide.

Daniel D. Roberts
Assistant Director, Criminal Justice
Information Services Division, F.B.I.
Washington, June 2, 2010

The letter confirms that the FBI only gets what criminal background check information local jurisdictions and states will give it, and admits that “vital data often fails to get to the bureau in a timely way” meaning the criminal database is not completely accurate.

The accuracy of the FBI database used for criminal background checks has become a hot topic for job applicants, employers, and even politicians. Recently, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security introduced a bill to strengthen the accuracy of FBI criminal background checks in response to a June 2006 report from the attorney general that showed nearly 50 percent of criminal records maintained in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database failed to note court decisions to dismiss arrests.

Since employers rely on the database to conduct background checks on potential hires, the 2010 Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act (H.R. 5300) would strengthen the accuracy of the FBI’s criminal database by requiring the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to verify that crime data used for background checks is up to date, find out the outcome of arrests whenever an employer requests a background check, and update that record in the NCIC database.

For more information about background checks, and how some FBI background checks may use inaccurate or incomplete information, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at