The FBI’s background checks “might be considered the gold standard, but these records are a mess,” said Madeline Neighly, staff lawyer at the National Employment Law Project.
NELP is slated to release a report Tuesday showing that the FBI processed nearly 17 million employment background checks last year — six times more than it did a decade ago. The advocacy group estimates that as many as 600,000 of those reports contain incomplete or inaccurate information.
In a statement, the FBI said it receives its data from state records agencies, and states are responsible for keeping the information updated.
Background checks can serve as important safety precautions, helping to ensure that sex offenders do not get hired at day-care centers, for example. The FBI emphasized that the agency is not involved in hiring decisions, but the number of industries that use its data to screen workers skyrocketed after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Because of new regulations, port workers, truck drivers and even mortgage processors must now undergo FBI background checks, turning the agency’s rap sheets into a virtual gateway to millions of jobs.
The issue has gained traction on Capitol Hill amid the tepid economic recovery and the tight job market. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) is planning to introduce a bill this week that would require the FBI to track down updated information within 10 days for employment screenings. A similar measure sponsored by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) would apply specifically to background checks for federal jobs.
“Finding a job in this economy is already hard enough,” Ellison said. “No one should lose the chance to work because of an inaccurate background check.”
Detroit resident Raquel Vanderpool lost her position as a nurse’s aide in 2009 after an FBI screening turned up outdated criminal information.
Vanderpool had pleaded guilty to a drug offense in 2003, and the judge had promised that the case would be dismissed if she served a year of probation, according to a suit she filed to regain her work license. But her file in the FBI’s database was never updated.
With the country in the depths of the recession, she was unable to find another job. She eventually lost her home to foreclosure and battled depression.
“I felt like I had lost everything and there wasn’t anyone out there that could help me, or would listen to me,” she said.
She was finally able to clear her record this spring with the help of a lawyer from Michigan’s Legal Aid clinic, four years after she lost her job.