Lawmakers Push Obama to Follow Through on Easing Federal Hiring of Former Criminals

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., led the coalition of House members asking OPM to issue regulations banning the box. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., led the coalition of House members asking OPM to issue regulations banning the box. Susan Walsh/AP

Lawmakers are putting pressure on the Obama administration to follow through on its promise to ease the hiring of former criminals, writing a letter this week to solidify “fair chance hiring” in government.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led the coalition of 50 House members in asking the Office of Personnel Management to issue regulations to “ban the box” -- referring to a box on job applications requiring individuals to indicate up front if they have past felonies on their records. President Obama in November directed OPM to “take action where it can” to delay inquiries into federal applicants’ criminal histories until late in the hiring process.

The lawmakers asked OPM to follow 2012 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance encouraging employers to use a “targeted screen” that prevents them from disqualifying applicants with a criminal record. They also asked the president to extend the hiring provisions to all federal contractors.

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“Your administration has the opportunity to drive fair chance hiring policies forward by making it clear that companies contracting with the federal government must also implement these policies,” the lawmakers wrote.

OPM declined to comment on the letter or any pending regulations.

A bipartisan group of members of both the House and Senate introduced legislation in September that would restrict federal agencies and contractors from asking about applicants’ criminal history until a conditional job offer has been made. Obama said in November he was “encouraged” by the bill, which has support across the political spectrum, and called on Congress to pass it. Cummings, one of the cosponsors on that legislation, now says the White House should act unilaterally.

“Without a clear path forward for the legislation, we are respectfully calling upon you to drive these issues forward with executive action,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. The bill has yet to receive action in any committee in either chamber of Congress.

The group said the president should enable the government to lead by example.

“We urge you to build on your administration’s record on fair chance hiring by committing the federal government to do its part to become a model employer,” it said. 

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