Workforce

OPM offers a 'second chance' at federal employment

selected workers (nep0/Shutterstock.com) 

As federal agencies continue to grapple with hiring and retention challenges, one particular avenue for finding qualified candidates has emerged: extending the eligible applicant pool to include people with criminal records.

At an Oct. 22 panel on the federal workforce hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration, the Office of Personnel Management's Deputy Director Michael Rigas said that the agency had begun utilizing the Second Chance Act, stressing that a criminal background did not automatically disbar one from federal employment.

"We're in the middle of engaging in the first effort to revamp the federal background investigation process since World War II," Rigas said in reference to a question about how the federal government handles applicants with questionable backgrounds. Rigas said that "600,000 people are released from federal and state prisons every year. Millions more are released from local jails, while one in three working Americans has an arrest record, which impacts their ability to get a job, to get credit, to get access to housing."

In May, the White House instructed OPM to abandon a proposed rule that would have mandated potential applicants disclose whether they had gone through a pre-trial diversion or intervention program in the last seven years. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote then-acting Director of OPM Margaret Weichert urging her to drop the rule, arguing it was counter to recently passed legislation aimed at "rehabilitation and reintegration" such as the First Step Act.

The Second Chance Act only allows employers to consider applicants' criminal status after they have been deemed eligible for a job and received a conditional offer of employment, Rigas said. One example he cited was drunk driving convictions, which may not be a problem for someone seeking work as an accountant but may present issues for someone looking for a job as a bus driver. "Having an arrest or a conviction is not a disqualifier for federal employment. In some jobs, there might be more of an issue in terms of the recency and relevance of what the issue was in relation to the job. So, there are factors involved, but this administration is really making a concerted effort."

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at lrussell@fcw.com and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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