The Office of Personnel Management proposed in February 2019 to expand the questions on federal hiring forms to include not only any imprisonment, probation or parole over the past seven years, but also any conviction alternative programs the applicant in which an applicant may have participated.
But according to Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Mile Lee, R-Utah, the inclusion of programs that are often designed to expunge an individual’s criminal record while conducting the federal hiring process directly contradicts prison-reform efforts supported by both parties in Congress and the White House.
“Currently, applicants are asked about recent convictions and periods of incarceration. Additional questions should not be added to include conviction alternative programs. The [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] claims that asking about diversion programs will ‘close a [question] gap’ and improve application accuracy. But this is a solution in search of a problem. Applicants should not have to disclose behavior that may not have resulted in conviction on a job application,” Van Hollen and Lee wrote in an April 23 letter to acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert.
“Diversion programs offer participants a real second chance and helps to move them out of the criminal justice system. After successful completion, participants are often allowed to expunge or seal their records. Diversion programs allow participants to avoid the negative consequences and stigma surrounding incarceration or convictions.”
Recently, members of Congress and President Donald Trump celebrated the passage of the First Step Act, which expands education and rehabilitation programs for incarcerated individuals in the United States.
Van Hollen and Lee claimed that OPM’s proposed rule change contradicts the spirit of that legislation.
“Over the past decade, Americans and Congress have taken a long hard look at who we incarcerate and why. This review has made us realize that too many elements of our criminal justice system are based on prejudice and have inflicted unnecessary harm in communities across the country,” Van Hollen and Lee wrote.
“The federal government should be leading the charge to encourage reintegration and rehabilitation — but, unfortunately, this NPRM does the opposite.”
The comment period on the proposed rule change closed April 23, according to the OPM Federal Register notice, though there was no indication of when such a rule could be implemented.