No governmentwide requirements exist for the checking of references for job applicants as a part of the federal government’s hiring process, including those who apply for law enforcement positions in the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a report released Thursday says.
The Justice Department’s office of inspector general, in a 109-page report, says law enforcement personnel at the five federal agencies accounted for more than 60 percent of the department’s new hires in fiscal 2010 but Justice required reference checks only for attorney applicants.
The report says reference checking within the department was more commonly done for positions not involving law enforcement and for internal transfers, adding that a review found that ATF, DEA and the Marshals Service had no policies requiring reference checks for new criminal investigators, deputy U.S. marshals or correctional officers.
Instead, according to the report, law enforcement components used methods other than reference checking to assess skill and aptitude of applicants for law enforcement positions, such as background investigations; performance assessments of applicants during training at a federal law enforcement training center; polygraph examinations; logic, cognitive and behavior tests; panel interviews; medical examinations; and drug and fitness tests.
“While these methods may demonstrate the applicant’s abilities and suitability for employment and eligibility for national security access, they do not replace a reference check, which provides valuable performance information directly from prior employers and others who have worked with the applicant,” the report says.
In a written response to the report, Mari Barr Santangelo, deputy assistant attorney general for human resources and administration, said the department had taken the report “under advisement” and would determine the “best approach to address this issue from a departmentwide perspective.”
She said the department’s Justice Management Division would follow up with new guidelines on reference checking, remind agencies within Justice of the requirement that reference checks be done, assist them to update or issue comprehensive reference-check guidance, and provide future training on reference checking.
The inspector general’s report noted that only three of the 39 Justice Department components whose policies were reviewed provided hiring officials with clear, written reference-check guidance that included position-specific questions for officials to ask references and addressed documentation requirements for reference checks.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management defines reference checking as “an objective evaluation of an applicant’s past job performance based on information collected from key individuals — including supervisors, co-workers and subordinates — who have known and worked with the applicant.”
But, according to the inspector general’s report, while OPM and the Merit Systems Protection Board encourage federal agencies to check applicants’ references for every hire, the Justice Department requires reference checking only for attorneys. Instead, the department has given its agencies the authority to set reference-checking policies for other occupations.