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Corruption Chronicles

Obama Orders Fed Agencies to Stop Asking Job Applicants about Criminal History

To make public-sector jobs more accessible to convicts, President Obama has issued a new order prohibiting federal agencies from asking candidates about criminal history when applying for positions. It’s part of the commander-in-chief’s mission to reduce barriers to reentry and employment for incarcerated individuals once they leave jail. The new measure, announced in a Friday media dump, will affect tens of thousands of federal government positions funded with taxpayer dollars.

Government often tries to escape fallout by burying controversial or bad news right before the weekend, but it’s difficult to keep this outrageous development below the radar. At the president’s order the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is publishing a proposed rule that would prohibit federal agencies from asking those applying for competitive service and career senior executive service positions about criminal and credit history. People with criminal records are already eligible to compete for the vast majority of federal jobs, a White House announcement states, and the proposed rule ensures that hiring managers are making selection decisions based solely on qualifications. “Early inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history may discourage motivated, well-qualified individuals who have served their time from applying for a federal job,” the announcement says, adding that “early inquiries could also lead to the disqualification of otherwise eligible candidates.”

The administration refers to criminal background checks as “barriers to employment” that “unnecessarily narrow the pool of eligible and qualified candidates for federal employment while also limiting opportunities for those with criminal histories to obtain the means to support themselves and their families.” If a candidate’s criminal record becomes known, they’re not be eliminated but rather evaluated via a “suitability determination” that considers character and conduct as well as the following factors; “relevance of any past criminal conduct to the job; the nature, seriousness, recency, and circumstances of any criminal conduct; the age of the individual at the time of the conduct; contributing societal conditions; and whether any efforts have been made toward rehabilitation.” This can easily be interpreted as a mandate to look the other way when evidence of a criminal record surfaces in the federal workforce.

The new directive is part of a broader effort by the administration to slash recidivism among ex-cons by providing them with tools to maximize their likelihood of success after prison. It’s called the Roadmap to Reentry and the president is pushing it hard in the aftermath of his sentencing reduction plan that resulted in the early release of tens of thousands of federal inmates, mostly serving time for drug-related crimes. To prepare criminals for life after prison Uncle Sam will provide a series of perks, including education, employment and life skills training in jail as well as substance abuse and mental health plans and programs to build family relationships behind bars. Once the cons are released, the government will help them find jobs and housing and provide a number of other programs to facilitate the reintegration process under Obama’s Roadmap to Reentry.

Years ago the administration tried slamming the private sector with a ban on job applicant background checks by claiming that they discriminate against minority candidates. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the nation’s workplace discrimination laws, wasted taxpayer dollars suing companies for checking criminal histories asserting that it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The apparent intent was to discourage other businesses from checking criminal histories out of fear of getting sued by the government, but it didn’t quite work out that way. A federal judge eventually blasted the EEOC’s claims, calling them laughable, distorted, cherry-picked, worthless and an egregious example of scientific dishonesty. Of interesting note is that the EEOC conducts criminal background checks as a condition of employment.


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