Former Obama officials advocate against FBI checks by (some) employers

Last week we posted a letter sent by former Attorney General Eric Holder to the Chicago City Council on behalf of Uber and Lyft, urging that it not require Uber and Lyft to subject their drivers to FBI fingerprint-based background checks applicable to taxi operators.  His main argument was that FBI records are incomplete and misleading, and that they have a discriminatory impact on minorities. It now turns out that the campaign to free these ride-sharing companies from regulatory restrictions is broad-based: Holder has reportedly written to officals in New Jersey and Atlanta considering similar measures, and other former Obama officials are also working for Uber.

Holder’s former chief of staff, Margaret Richardson, now counsel to his firm Covington and Burling, serves on Uber’s safety advisory board. Former Congressman Howard Berman, also with Covington, has been working on behalf of Uber to defeat similar measures under consideration in California. Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe is a “strategic adviser” for Uber and a member of the company’s board of directors.

Uber and Lyft have historically fought the mandated fingerprinting that many municipalities require of taxi operators, arguing that their own screening methods are better suited to a business model that relies on the fast recruitment of large numbers of drivers.  Uber pulled out of Austin, Texas, rather than comply with driver screening requirements imposed by that city.

Holder’s fairness arguments seem to have equal application to other professions whose employees are screened by fingerprint based background checks.  Efforts to improve the accuracy of FBI records have made little headway in Congress over the years, because of the cost of policing state record-keeping.  At the same time, background screening providers have lobbied against regulatory measures that would limit what they can report to employers and licensing entities.

In a few weeks the Uniform Law Commission will be considering a model law on accuracy of criminal records, and the arguments made by Uber’s high-profile lobbyists will likely be taken into account.  On the table will be a “decay” feature that would preclude consideration of arrest records not resulting in conviction after a oeriod of time.  If adopted and enforced by states, such a provision would go a long way toward fixing the problems in FBI records identified by Mr. Holder.