US to limit criminal background queries for government job seekers

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday decided to bar federal agencies from asking applicants for tens of thousands of government jobs about their criminal history until the very end of the process.

As criminal background checks have become routine in both the public and private sectors, a regulation proposed by the Obama administration would remove a barrier that discourages many released prisoners from applying for jobs. The rule would prevent supervisors who interview candidates for about half of all federal jobs from asking about a job seeker’s criminal or credit history until a conditional offer is made.

The ban is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to facilitate the return to society of some 600,000 people released from prison each year and promote what it says are fairer and more criminal justice policies. efficient. The administration announced related measures earlier in the week, including a push States to issue identification to newly released prisoners.

Valerie Jarrett, one of President Obama’s top advisers, told reporters that in its efforts to help detainees “thrive as productive, law-abiding citizens” after their release, the administration has secured pledges from 112 companies and groups to also follow its policy, known as “ban the box”. These companies and groups employ 1.5 million people.

“This is a big step forward and one that will really make a difference,” Ms Jarrett said.

Officials said policies requiring applicants to tick a box if they have a criminal history discourage many released prisoners from applying for jobs, even though they may still be eligible.

Mr. Obama asked officials in November to expand on the details of the new regulations. It was posted online on Friday and the public will have 60 days to submit comments before a final rule is posted.

“The federal government, I believe, should not use criminal history to weed out applicants before even considering their qualifications,” Obama said in a speech at Rutgers University. “We can’t fire people just because of a mistake they made in the past.”

If a final rule is enacted, Congress will still have a chance to override it under a legislative mechanism that will go into effect during the final months of an administration, though it’s unclear whether Republican leaders will seek to do so.

The initiative elicited no significant opposition on Capitol Hill. Many Democrats backed the idea — calling on the administration to impose it on contractors and federal agencies — and even some conservative groups voiced support.

But the new policy will not go as far as some employee rights groups had hoped. Federal contractors will be encouraged, but not required, to follow the ban, officials said, and it will leave thousands of federal contractor jobs exempt from the change.

Beth F. Cobert, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, said she expected the ban to apply to about half of the roughly 200,000 government positions that were filled during the year. last.

Certain federal job categories would be exempt from the policy, and a criminal history would remain an automatic disqualifier for certain positions in law enforcement and other fields.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch highlighted the new policy during an appearance Friday at the federal prison in Talladega, Alabama. The administration has held dozens of public events this week to draw attention to the hardships faced by inmates, many of whom are low-risk drug abusers. offenders, officials say — upon their return to society.

Several labor rights groups and liberal organizations have praised the administration’s efforts.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a New York-based advocacy group, said the effort to help released inmates work and get back to their lives was “one of the biggest civil rights issues in our time”, and that Mr. Obama’s action reflected “the federal government’s role as a model employer”.

She said the approximately 70 million people with criminal records in the United States “should be able to bring their diverse talents and skills to the federal workforce without unreasonable and discriminatory barriers.”

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