Department of Justice Skips Reference Checks

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The point of administering security clearances is to provide employers, be they companies or the government, a tangible identifier for individuals who are considered trustworthy and loyal enough to handle sensitive information. However, holding a security clearance does not inherently signify the accomplishments, work ethic, and competence of an individual. Clearance Jobs reports that the Justice Department received a harsh review from the Inspector General for using security clearances as a replacement for work history and reference checking.

According to Lindy Kyzer at Clearance Jobs, "While a security clearance should demonstrate trustworthiness and honesty, and perhaps answer many questions concerning employee suitability for a position, it is not an adequate assessment of an employee's past work performance or qualifications, which the IG report noted."

The Inspector General found that certain agencies and departments had been completely foregoing reference checks. Although the process of calling applicants' references can be arduous, it is widely considered a secure method of establishing whether or not an individual has the right combination of traits, ability, and knowledge an employer seeks. It is possible that this gap in the employment process is not due to simple oversight, but pressure to hire and a lack of adequate resources. According to Kyzer, "Yet with budgets more strapped than ever and hiring managers under continued pressure to fill competitive positions quickly, the value of a security clearance for those who possess one – is likely to rise."

"For law enforcement positions, there were no policies requiring reference checks for new law enforcement applicants, and hiring managers told us that they did not conduct reference checks when hiring these new staff," the report reads. Although this may seem surprising, there are potentially valid reasons for the lack of reference checking. The report does include reasons provided by certain agencies as to why reference checks were sometimes ignored. The FBI was quoted in the report saying that reference checks aren't necessary in lieu of "the FBI requirement that all applicants receive a fully adjudicated background investigation, which includes FBI contact with applicants' references, prior to beginning work."

Despite the reasoning of a few agencies, the investigators conclude that they "believe inconsistency in component policies and practices increases the risk that components are not uniformly and thoroughly screening applicants. … Consequently, components may unknowingly hire individuals who cannot perform the job well or whose talents and interests do not support the component's mission and culture."

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Security Clearance