FBI Background Checks: Not a Gold Standard
At first glance, it’s easy to see how FBI background checks could be beneficial in employment background screening. A federal database with fingerprint records might seem like a highly accurate criminal search, but there are many flaws with this type of background check. In fact, I wrote an article in July 2014 explaining why FBI background checks are not enough for healthcare employers. While it can be part of your organization’s background check process, it’s highly recommended that you consider its weaknesses before outlining your screening policy.
In an article published in Roll Call on December 3, 2014, Melissa Sorenson, Executive Director of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), states, “In reality, the FBI database is far from perfect and should never be regarded as the most reliable source for comprehensive and accurate background screening.” I applaud Sorenson’s editorial, which was in response to Representatives Mike Rogers and Adam B. Schiff describing the FBI’s fingerprint database as a “gold standard” in a previous Roll Call editorial.
The following are three key issues with the FBI fingerprint background check, according to Sorenson’s commentary.
Flawed By Design
First, Sorenson explains that the FBI database was designed to generate investigative leads based on fingerprint evidence. Therefore, the system was never intended to produce employment background checks. Employers should keep this in mind when determining whether to utilize the system in their screening process. By design, an FBI background check may not be the most effective or efficient method.
Incomplete and Inaccurate Records
Next, Sorenson discusses how the FBI repository is neither universal, nor considered reliable as a single source for background screening purposes. A 153-page 2006 U.S. Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks describes the limits of the FBI’s repository, stating that “final disposition information for approximately 50 percent of its records” is missing. The underlying issue is that counties and states must report the information to the FBI, which is not always the case.
Specifically, Sorenson explains that the FBI’s database does not contain up-to-date sex offender registry information. Even the FBI report recognizes that “users may not want to rely exclusively on an FBI and state repository check and may also want to check other record sources, such as commercial databases and local courthouses, to obtain more complete and up-to-date information.”
There's No Single Source for Background Checks
If anything, the key takeaway is that employers should avoid relying solely on a single source for an employment background check. Healthcare employers, for example, will need to search the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) as well as various other exclusion lists to safeguard their organizations from federal fines. These exclusion screenings are in addition to the standard criminal background checks that apply to any employer. “As professional background screeners,” Sorenson comments, “NAPBS members realize there is no single source that provides all of the information necessary for an accurate background screen.”
Since the FBI’s database cannot be considered a “gold standard”, employers should be mindful of its many limitations when utilizing it in their background screening process.