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Obama seeks to strengthen safeguards for federal job applicants

Feb. 3, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Obama Meets With Amir Of Kuwait
Agencies should not discriminate against applicants who have financial difficulties or are unemployed, says a presidential memo. (Pool / Getty Images)

Federal agencies should not discriminate against job applicants who are out of work or who run into money troubles through no fault of their own, President Obama said in a newly issued memorandum.

As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government has a responsibility to lead by example, Obama wrote in the memo released Friday. Although agencies generally take employment history and other factors into account in making hiring decisions, applicants “should not face undue obstacles to federal employment because they are unemployed or face financial difficulties.”

Agencies must review their recruiting and hiring practices to determine whether they put applicants in such circumstances at “an undue disadvantage” and report their findings to the Office of Personnel Management within three months, he said.

On similar grounds, agencies should also avoid firing, suspending or demoting current workers who have financial problems outside of their control and are making a good-faith effort to meet their obligations, Obama said. OPM must also issue instructions to agencies on how to implement the memo, he added.

The memo comes amid mounting worries that the long-term jobless face bias from employers because of credit problems or because they have been out of work for so long. In addition, financial woes can pose barriers for security clearance applicants or federal employees and contractors who need their clearances renewed to keep their jobs.

While agencies are already supposed to take the circumstances into account, the memo “could really influence those decisions,” said Sheldon Cohen, a Virginia attorney who represents people appealing clearance denials and authored a 2010 paper on the impact of debt and home foreclosures on clearance decisions.

But Brad Moss, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who also handles clearance appeals, did not expect any significant impact because federal guidelines already require the Defense Department and other agencies to examine “mitigating factors” in deciding whether to clear applicants for access to classified information.

“If nothing more, this new memo brings suitability considerations for federal employees more in line with the criteria that security officials have been using for years,” Moss said in an email.

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