Yesterday the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the use of criminal background checks (GAO-15-162) tied to a congressional request.  The title of the report is, “Criminal History Records – Additional Actions Could Enhance the Completeness of Records used for Employment-Related Background Checks”.

The GAO report sought to address “to what extent (1) states conduct FBI record checks for selected employment sectors and face any challenges; (2) states have improved the completeness of records, and remaining challenges that federal agencies can help mitigate; and (3) private companies conduct criminal record checks, the benefits those checks provide to employers, and any related challenges.”  This blog will focus on what the report says about private background screening companies.  Specifically the GAO report found that:

  • The use and number of private companies conducting criminal record background checks for employment screening appears to be increasing because of employer demand;
  • Both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are responsible for enforcing provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) which are applicable to background screeners, as they are considered “consumer reporting agencies” under the FCRA;
  • According to FTC officials, from FY 2009 – 2014, the “FTC settled 16 complaints against private background screening companies and employers for alleged FCRA violations” and of the 16 complaints, 4 included allegations related to the use of criminal history information for employment purposes (See page 35 of the report);
  • CFPB officials noted that “they have not received many consumer complaints regarding the use of criminal history records in employment background checks” (See page 35 ofthe report); and
  • Private background screening companies generally conduct name-based checks as opposed to fingerprint-based checks, which according to the report, can “decrease the accuracy of the information that the check produces.”  However, use of additional identifiers, such as date of birth, can help mitigate accuracy concerns (See page 38 of the report).

The report concludes on page 39 by saying that “employers’ increasing use of criminal history record checks to determine applicants’ suitability for employment, licensing, or volunteering underscores the need for accurate and complete criminal records–including the final disposition of any criminal charges–and assurances that applicants have an opportunity to challenge or correct potentially inaccurate records.”  The report lays out three recommendations for executive action involving the FBI and states, and those are listed on page 40 of the report.