The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has published a white paper urging the federal government to increase its own employment of people with a criminal record. In “Advancing a Federal Fair Chance Hiring Agenda,” Maurice Emsellem and Michelle Natividad Rodriguez make a strong case for a federal “fair chance” hiring initiative similar to the ones put in place by state and municipal governments across the country. Specifically, background check policies and suitability standards should be reformed by presidential order to give people with criminal records an opportunity to compete for jobs with federal agencies and federal contractors from which they are now, as a practical matter, excluded.
The NELP paper points out that the federal workforce is far more decentralized than a standard civil service structure, with fewer mandated protections regulating the hiring process. Notwithstanding OPM guidelines, federal agencies have broad discretion to adopt their own hiring policies and practices, often with limited accountability and transparency. Indeed, the EEOC has been critical of the fact that federal agencies are not bound by the same suitability standards that apply to most other public and private employers. Moreover, federal contractor employees (an astonishing 22 percent of the U.S. workforce) enjoy few legal protections, and applicants may be rejected (or employees dismissed) on the basis of stringent FBI background check requirements that apply, inter alia, to anyone with routine access to federal facilities. These shortcomings could be addressed with the stroke of a presidential pen (or two strokes to be precise).