FBI Background Checks Raise Concerns

As more employers turn to FBI background checks to screen potential job applicants, the agency is facing more and more concern about accuracy and racial discrimination.

Accuracy concerns include the fact that many FBI reports only list arrests but not the outcome of the cases. Reports missing crucial conviction information often have a negative outcome for job applicants who are rejected for the job based and their arrest information. A group of minorities recently filed lawsuit against the Commerce Department alleging that the incomplete FBI database discriminates against African American and Hispanic job applicants since they have a much higher arrest rate than their white counterparts.

FBI background checks are often thought to be the "gold standard, but these records are mess," said Madeline Neighly, staff lawyer at the National Employment Law Project.

NELP estimates that of the 17 million requests processed through the FBI last year, 600,000 contained incomplete or inaccurate information. A decade ago, the FBI processed an average of 3 million requests annually, an incredible increase since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The number of industries utilizing FBI background checks for employment purposes has skyrocketed and includes port works, truck drivers and even mortgage processors. The agency's database is the gateway for millions to employment.

An upcoming bill, to be introduced by Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) would require the FBI to track down updated information within 10 days from an employment screen. "Finding a job in this economy is already hard enough," said Rep. Keith Ellision. "No one should lose the chance to work because of an inaccurate background check." Ellison plans to introduce a similar bill applying to background checks for federal jobs.