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Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) – the “congressional watchdog” investigating how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars – has released a report on the use of criminal background checks titled ‘Criminal History Records: Additional Actions Could Enhance the Completeness of Records Used For Employment-Related Background Checks (GAO-15-162).’ The complete report from the GAO is available at

According to a ‘GAO Highlights’ document about the report, authorized employers use information from Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) criminal history record checks to assess a person’s suitability for employment or to obtain a license. States create criminal records and the FBI facilitates access to these records by other states for nationwide background checks. The GAO was asked to assess efforts to address concerns about incomplete records.

The GAO analyzed laws and regulations used to conduct criminal record checks and assessed the completeness of records; conducted a nationwide survey, which generated responses from 47 states and the District of Columbia; and interviewed officials that manage checks from the FBI and 4 states (California, Florida, Idaho, and Washington) selected based on geographic location and other factors.

The GAO report addresses to what extent:

  • States conduct FBI record checks for selected employment sectors and face any challenges;
  • States have improved the completeness of records, and remaining challenges that federal agencies can help mitigate; and
  • Private companies conduct criminal record checks, the benefits those checks provide to employers, and any related challenges.

The GAO’s nationwide survey found most states conducted FBI criminal history record checks for individuals working with vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. The GAO report found that some states did not conduct FBI record checks because those states lacked a designated agency to review check results. The employment sectors that most used FBI criminal history record checks were:

  • Job or license to be a teacher in schools;
  • Youth development positions (e.g. Boys and Girls Club);
  • Volunteers serving the elderly or individuals with disabilities; and
  • National Service Program participants (e.g. AmeriCorps).

The GAO report also found that states improved the completeness of criminal history records used for FBI checks with more records containing both the arrest and final disposition (such as a conviction). Twenty states reported that more than 75 percent of their arrest records had dispositions in 2012, up from 16 states in 2006. However, there are still gaps such as incomplete records that can delay criminal record checks and affect applicants seeking employment.

Although the Department of Justice (DOJ) helped states improve the completeness of records, challenges remain. A Disposition Task Force created by the FBI’s Advisory Policy Board in 2009 to address issues regarding disposition reporting has taken actions to better measure the completeness of state records and identify state requirements for reporting disposition information. However, the task force does not have plans with time frames for completing remaining goals. The GAO recommends that the FBI establish plans with time frames for these remaining goals and the DOJ concurred.

A 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) – ‘Wanted: Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment’ – highlighted the many sources of inaccuracies in the FBI database when used as a tool to look for convictions. The report revealed that almost 600,000 of the nearly 17 million employment background checks the FBI processed in 2012 contained inaccurate information. The report estimated 1.8 million workers are subjected to inaccurate checks each year. The report is available at

Attorney Lester Rosen, Founder and CEO of Employment Screening Resources® (ESR), warned of the same issues with FBI Databases in the first edition of his book ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ published in 2004:

The FBI database’s formal name is the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and is an automated database of criminal justice and justice-related records maintained by the FBI. The sources of the FBI’s information are the counties and states that contribute information as well as the federal justice agencies. Two important points about the NCIC are:

  • The NCIC is not nearly as complete as portrayed in the movies. Because of the chain of events that must happen in multiple jurisdictions in order for a crime to appear in NCIC, many records of crime do not make it into the system.
  • The information the NCIC does have is predominantly arrest-related. The disposition of most crimes in NCIC must be obtained by searching at the adjudicating jurisdiction. Dispositions are important issue for employers.

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – ‘The Background Check Authority®’ – is a nationwide background check firm accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). ESR’s SOC 2 Audit Report confirms ESR meets high standards set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) for protecting consumer information. For more information about Employment Screening Resources (ESR), call toll free 888.999.4474 or visit


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