Bill would require FBI to fill in gaps in criminal records database

New requirements would ensure employers receive up-to-date information in background checks of potential hires.

A bill introduced in the House would strengthen the accuracy of the FBI's criminal records database by requiring the U.S. Attorney General's Office to verify that crime data is up to date. Employers rely on the database to conduct background checks on potential hires.

The 2010 Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act would require the attorney general to find out from court offices, including those in state and local jurisdictions, the outcome of arrests whenever an employer requests a background check, and update that record in the National Crime Information Center database. In cases where the attorney general discovers an arrest was dismissed in court, he has 10 days to update the record before responding to the employer's request.

Employers often consult the NCIC database to conduct background checks on individuals applying for jobs in law enforcement, homeland security or organizations where they'd be working with vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly. Typically only public sector entities can request FBI background checks, though certain private sector companies -- such as those supporting federal homeland security efforts -- can as well.

Bobby Scott, D-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, introduced the bill on May 13 in response to a June 2006 report from the attorney general that showed nearly 50 percent of criminal records maintained in the NCIC database failed to note court decisions to dismiss arrests.

"In the current economy, neither employers nor workers can afford employment background records that are inaccurate or incomplete," Scott said in a statement e-mailed to Nextgov.

The legislation would give job applicants the opportunity to obtain a copy of records provided to a potential employer and challenge their accuracy and completeness. If the records are challenged, the attorney general would have 30 days to complete an investigation, make changes or deletions, and report those changes to the applicant and the employer.

"An incomplete and error-riddled criminal database cannot be the reason qualified workers don't earn a paycheck," Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO's transportation trades department, said in a statement. "This problem must get fixed. Workers and businesses -- as well as our economy -- suffer when qualified employees are kept off the job by uncorrected database errors."