Government Accountability Office (GAO) Releases Report on Criminal History Records

GAO Release Report on Criminal Records

GAO Release Report on Criminal Records

by Thomas C. Lawson, CFE, CII

Criminal History Records – The GAO, a watchdog that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, released a report in February 2015 on the use of criminal background checks titled ‘Criminal History Records: Additional Actions Could Enhance the Completeness of Records Used For Employment-Related Background Checks (GAO-15-162).’ The complete report from the GAO is available at http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/668505.pdf

Among the many other things that this report provides (both extraneous and salient) what I take note of most is that, in addition to standardized protocols for those able to access government criminal records – that the Federal government and the States should be policing themselves so as to ensure better reporting and that both the States and the Fed are going to have to follow the same transparency, thoroughness and compliance protocols that we in the private sector have to follow in screening employment candidates.

As we all know, the Feds rely on the States to contribute records to its internal repositories to assess candidates for government service but the GAO study clearly extolls that even the NCIC, FBI Identification bureau and other internal repositories used to vet the criminal backgrounds of its candidates are indeed fallible and can contribute outdated, false, misleading or otherwise damaging information on prospective candidates.

This report also suggests that certain qualified industries in the private and quasi-public sectors (“qualified” to access the internal repositories) are in the same category as the government, and in the GAO’s usual way, suggests that completeness should be the order of the day even though it says it with more words than necessary for those who can breathe and move toward light.

Further and what is not really discussed but one has to believe is part of the thinking process (just as with the private sector), is that the Plaintiff’s lawyers are circling and the GAO realizes it so the GAO’s new mantra is that it is about time those who use the State and Federal record access to vet candidates in sensitive industries, live up to the same standards that we in the Consumer Reporting industry have been required to live by ever since the enactment of the Fair Credit Reporting Act on 26 October, 1970.

To those very few of us who live and die by the belief that Contemporaneous Notice is no substitute for a thorough records search at the courthouse, and report ONLY under the FCRA 607 & 6143a2 standard this is no big deal, in fact in 1980 when APSCREEN started, we screamed the need for thorough services like ours because of the gross inadequacy of both State and Federal criminal repositories’ records that were being researched in MILSPEC and Aerospace contexts.

The incidences that we have reviewed where agency records failed are legion since we started in 1980 and the most telling of all is State of Nevada v. Wisenbaker where local, state and Federal Law enforcement records missed multiple convictions in multiple separate jurisdictions and which resulted in one of the most horrifying multiple child molestation cases in Nevada resulting in multiple life sentences adjudicated upon Larry Wisenbaker, a man who in the words of the Nevada Attorney General was ”The most heinous sex offender in the history of the State of Nevada.”

In this case I was the expert witness of record in the ensuing civil case against St. Jude’s Ranch for Children who hired Mr. Wisenbaker to oversee a cabin housing four troubled boys and where most of the sexual assaults took place.  When conducting a routine background check,  St. Judes’ asked the Henderson, NV Police Department to fingerprint Larry Wisenbaker and the record came back clear, even though he disclosed that he was convicted of felonies on his employment application.

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Our opinion? Whoop-De-Diddly-Dee – just another government report trying to get amateur CRA’s and the State and Federal repositories to do the job right, which they should have done, imprimis.

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