Justice Department seldom checking references for law-enforcement hires

January 18, 2013

The Justice Department rarely checks references for potential law-enforcement hires as recommended by official groups that oversee personnel practices, according to a report released Thursday by the agency’s inspector general.

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Those divisions made up 38 percent of the agency’s hiring in 2010, the report said.

The Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board encourage all government agencies to use reference checks whenever selecting new employees.

Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz found that the Justice Department only requires that verification procedure for new attorney applicants. Even then, not all divisions within the agency follow protocol, the report said.

Only three out of 39 divisions have created written policies that provide clear reference-checking guidance for hiring officials, according to the analysis.

The inspector general noted that some hiring officials “are simply not bothering to check references,” concluding that inconsistencies within the department’s practices “create risk that components are not uniformly and thoroughly screening applicants.”

The OPM’s hiring-assessment manual says reference checks help verify the information applicants provide and allow managers to predict future job success of prospective employees.

An advisory report on federal hiring from the Merit System Protection Board says the practice can also reveal information that hiring officials wouldn’t otherwise identify through other selection procedures.

The inspector general recommended that the Justice Department place a greater emphasis on the need for hiring officials to follow the agency’s own reference-checking requirements. The report also said the department’s human resource division should develop agency-wide guidelines and provide periodic training for reference checking.

The Justice Department disagreed with an inspector general recommendation to post reference-checking tips from outside groups on the agency’s intranet system. Responding to the proposal, the human resources division said it would determine for itself whether “updating general reference guidance, as opposed to official Departmental guidance, is appropriate.”

The Justice Department concurred with the inspector general’s other suggestions.

For more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page,and Post Politics.

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks · January 17, 2013