Faulty FBI Background Checks for Employment

NELP released a new analysis today that documents the serious impact of faulty FBI background checks on thousands of workers and makes the case for Congressional action to address the issue.

The problem is that nearly half of FBI background checks fail to include information on the outcome of a case after an arrest—fundamental information such as whether a charge was dismissed. These inaccurate and incomplete records seriously prejudice the employment prospects of an estimated 600,000 workers every year, according to our estimates.

The policy brief, Faulty FBI Background Checks for Employment: Correcting FBI Records is Key to Criminal Justice Reform, builds on our comprehensive 2013 report, Wanted: Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment. The new policy brief shows that the number of FBI background checks has continued increase, while the FBI has failed to make any measurable progress to correct errors and update material information in the roughly 17 million FBI background checks generated each year for employment purposes.

In 10 states, for example, more than 50 percent of the arrests reported by the FBI failed to include disposition information on the outcome of the case. Worse yet, the FBI has failed to enforce existing regulations that require states to provide updated information in a timely fashion and preclude the reporting of non-serious offenses.

The good news is that there’s strong bipartisan support in Congress to reform the faulty FBI background checks, which undermine the employment prospects of large numbers of Americans, especially people of color. Earlier this year, Senate Judiciary Committee leaders Senator Charles Grassley and Senator Patrick Leahy wrote to the FBI seeking details about the FBI’s background checks, which resulted in this September 2015 response from the agency detailing its current policies and practices.

The bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that recently passed the Judiciary Committee (S. 2123) takes an important first step to address the issue; more comprehensive bipartisan legislation also has been introduced in both the Senate and House (S. 675/H.R. 1672), led by Senator Cory Booker.

The release of NELP’s policy brief coincides with today’s Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the FBI, where FBI Director Comey will be testifying.

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