What’s the difference between government background checks and those by the private sector?

As part of its war on standards, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing employers around the country for using the results of background checks to screen applicants for employment. The EEOC’s theory is that such screening excludes a disproportionate amount of Black applicants and, at least in the cases where EEOC sues, is not justified by business necessity.

But the federal government screens applicants for employment. And given the size of its workforce and the disproportionate representation of Blacks among those with prior criminal convictions, the government’s screening for criminal convictions surely excludes Blacks from employment disproportionately.

Accordingly, when employers are sued by the government over background checking, they seek to discover how the government used background checks. The government, for its part, fights like hell to prevent such discovery.

The government’s resistance isn’t just cynical; it’s outrageous. Even in the absence of litigation, the government has no business concealing the nature of its employment practices. The public has a right to know how the government hires. After all, it does so using our money.

But events seem to be overtaking the government’s attempts to hide the ball. The hiring of the psychotic criminal Aaron Alexis has raised all sorts of questions about how the government goes about screening applicants for federal employment.

One thing we’ve learned is that the background check of Alexis was performed by the same outfit that checked up on Edward Snowden. In both cases, the work was performed by a contractor, USIS.

Indeed, according to this report from Bloomberg, no company does more U.S. government background checks than USIS. Pursuant to a $253 million contract from the Office of Personnel Management, USIS performed about two-thirds of background investigations done by contractors and more than half of all those performed by the U.S. personnel office.

But USIS is itself under investigation — criminal investigation, according to Sen. Claire McCaskill. And even assuming that it has not committed any crimes (as we should at this stage), the security experts Bloomberg contacted agree that USIS is cutting corners due to the sheer volume of investigations it conducts.

To make matters worse, USIS has actually gained market share from the federal government since the Snowden affair exploded. As far as the federal government is concerned, nothing succeeds like failure.

So what’s the difference between government background checks and those by the private sector? In my experience, the private sector, which must worry about liability for “wrongful hiring” — performs its background checks competently, as a rule. The federal government, it appears, does not.

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