OPM proposes to ‘Ban the Box’ for most federal hiring

Reentry Week is over, but the real work to ease Americans’ transitions from incarceration back into society is just beginning. Amid a flurry of federal activity around this issue, the Office of Personnel Management published a proposed rule that would “ban the box” on most federal job applications.

“Ban the box” is a movement that advocates postponing criminal background checks during the job application process. Proponents say that inquiring about criminal history on the initial application discriminates against otherwise qualified candidates.

The rule proposed by OPM on April 29 would delay the criminal history check until after federal employers already have issued a conditional offer of employment to an applicant, according to the press release.

“This change prevents candidates from being eliminated before they have a chance to demonstrate their qualifications,” OPM acting Director Beth Cobert said in the Director’s Blog on OPM.gov. “Earlier inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history may discourage motivated, well-qualified individuals who have served their time from applying for a federal job. Early inquiries could also lead to the premature disqualification of otherwise eligible candidates, regardless of whether an arrest actually resulted in a conviction, or whether consideration of an applicant’s criminal history is justified by business necessity.”

Comments on the proposed rule are due by July 1.

This idea has gained traction within the federal government over the last few years, garnering support from dozens of members of Congress, who have written multiple letters to President Barack Obama asking him to institute this policy. In November 2015, in response to pressure from lawmakers and activists, the President directed OPM to work on instituting this policy within agencies.

A number of agencies already had adopted this policy before OPM published the proposed rule.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) released a statement on Friday supporting OPM’s proposed rule.

“I applaud the President for seeking to implement fair chance hiring policies across federal agencies,” Cummings said in a press release. “What a fitting way to recognize National Reentry Week.”

Cummings cosigned both the 2015 and 2016 letters to the President urging this action, as well as sponsoring H.R. 3470, which would have banned the box in agencies, but the bill has faced challenges to becoming law.

In addition to OPM’s proposed rule, the release said that the President marked the final day of Reentry Week by establishing the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, a group representing more than 20 agencies, to study and influence the government’s actions on rehabilitating and reintegrating individuals convicted of crimes.

He also hosted a number of members of private industry who have already taken action to “ban the box” at the White House on April 11. He did this to promote the Fair Chance Business Pledge, which is his campaign to encourage other employers to follow suit.

Obama has not yet issued an executive order directing federal contractors to adopt this policy as well, although that was also a request made by lawmakers in the 2016 letter.

Several other agencies and high-profile federal employees marked the occasion in their own ways as well, according to the release:

  • The Council of Economic Advisors released a report taking a look at incarceration through an economic lens, and recommended ways to reduce crime in a cost-effective manner.
  • The Department of Justice published “five evidence-based principles of reform to be implemented by the Bureau of Prisons” entitled the Roadmap to Reentry.
  • Attorney General Loretta Lynch sent a letter to governors asking them to approve the exchange of corrections identification cards for state-issued identification upon reentry.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development released guidance on the Fair Housing Act in order to reduce discriminatory practices that present roadblocks to individuals reentering society who are trying to obtain housing.
  • HUD and DoJ awarded $1.75 million in grants to assist young “justice-involved” people obtain public housing.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services clarified that individuals currently undergoing reentry are not prohibited from Medicaid.