New step for job applicants: FBI checks
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In the wake of Sept. 11, an increasing number of companies - prompted in part by the government - are rolling out the fingerprint pads to find out. They are zipping the ink stains over to the FBI, calling the Immigration and Naturalization Service to check on legal status, and hiring outside screeners to make sure job résumés are accurate. The scramble to check history is stretching from limo drivers to airline pilots to chefs.
Proponents of the new snooping say it may help root out potential problems by finding people with a past criminal history or fake citizenship papers.
Opponents fear it will result in many people being fired for youthful indiscretions they have already served time for. It is an issue likely to find its way into the courts because real jobs - and livelihoods - are at stake.
"This is probably the most security conscious we have been in the last 60 years," says Phil Anderson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the firms that specialize in screening potential employees for other companies. At ChoicePoint, based in metro Atlanta, "the phones lit up" right after Sept. 11, says Dave Cook, vice president in charge of sales and marketing. "People said we're not looking broad enough or deep enough at our employees."
The searches are turning up some unpleasant surprises. Mr. Cook says his firm has identified hundreds of major thefts and murders that may not have been reported on employment applications.
In the past, banks, defense contractors, and those who were required by law, such as schools and day-care centers, did the checks. Now, the universe has expanded. For example, the temp business is now checking for criminal violations. "Their clients are requiring it, so they are doing it," says Albert Bueno, president of RSI, based in Hollywood, Fla.
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued proposed security guidelines that include background checks for the 11 million people who work in the food business. And the airline industry faced a deadline to fingerprint any worker with access to a secure area.
The fingerprints will be sent to the FBI for what is called a "national agency check." This is the same initial screening that the military performs to verify criminal records and citizenship. "The FBI database is pretty good," says Mr. Anderson. "If you could do that for everyone, I think it would at least narrow the focus and reduce the risk."
However, Gordon Adams, director of security-policy studies at George Washington University, calls it "probably a good idea that's run slightly amok." He worries that it will result in long delays in people getting jobs and "the longest line for [security] approval you've ever seen."
The increased security is something organized labor is keeping its eye on, says John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO. Although he recognizes the need for tighter security, "We will be striving to make changes to whatever might be onerous on workers and on their work careers," he says.