A bipartisan group of senators is urging the Trump administration to drop a proposal under which federal job applicants would have to disclose whether they went through a criminal diversion program, a requirement that critics say would make it harder for those once charged to find work.
In a letter to acting Office of Personnel Management director Margaret Weichert, Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) wrote that the proposed change would “no doubt exclude deserving applicants from valued federal employment opportunities” and “is flatly at odds” with the goals of the First Step Act, which President Trump signed into law last year.
“Those who have accepted the consequences of their actions, and who in many cases have worked hard to complete court-mandated programming, should have the opportunity to reenter the workplace,” the senators wrote Tuesday. “We should be working to eliminate — not erect — such barriers.”
Also opposing the proposal is Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who co-authored a separate letter to Weichert with Lee on Tuesday describing the move as “a solution in search of a problem.”
“Currently, applicants are asked about recent convictions and periods of incarceration,” they wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “Additional questions should not be added to include conviction alternative programs.”
Under the proposed update to hiring requirements, applicants who get a job offer from the federal government or its contractors would have to disclose whether they went through a pretrial diversion program that allowed them to avoid prison — and a criminal record. The answer could lead an agency to rescind the offer.
The OPM has said that the new language is merely an effort to make clear that the current requirement, which calls for federal job applicants to disclose prior criminal conduct, includes any participation in diversion programs.
As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, the last day for public input on the move, the proposal had received nearly 3,500 comments. It had been posted by the OPM in late February as advocates for the First Step Act were working with the White House and Congress on a change that would ease the path to federal employment for former offenders.
The proposal has drawn attention outside Washington as well. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. penned a letter to Weichert on Tuesday voicing his opposition to the plan.
“How do we, as a society, take steps to ensure that fellow citizens who have paid their dues become contributing members of society?” he wrote. “We should focus on their future, not their past, and ban questions about diversion in the federal hiring process.”
A coalition of groups representing prosecutors, public defenders, criminal justice advocates and state and local governments is also urging the Trump administration to withdraw the proposal.
They include the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Center for American Progress, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the R Street Institute and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.