January 16th, 2017 | Debbie Lamb, Sterling Talent Solutions

Background Checks in Politics: Just as Important as in Business

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Background checks are used by employers to look at a job candidate’s past work and educational performance to identify potential hiring risks for safety and security reasons. There are many elements to background checks, but the basics include criminal background checks, drug testing and education and employment verification. Every company has a different approach, preference and requirement for conducting background checks. However, employers in all areas are looking for the most comprehensive picture of their candidates. When recruiting new employees, companies need additional information to help them verify they are making informed hiring decisions. In this way, performing proper due diligence in hiring includes screening potential employees.

Politicians and Background Checks

Employers use background checks to focus on certain aspects of a candidate’s history to give them an idea how the applicant might perform at their company. Employee background screening checks are used in all aspects of modern society from education to technology to medical fields. However, there is not a specified background screening program for politicians. During every election cycle, candidates from all parties and walks of life have been caught hiding embarrassing information from the voters.  Political figures, both current and historical, are not immune to the imperfections of human nature, putting them in the “hot seat” during or after their career. Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant are just a few past political figures who’s actions might have failed a background check.

Do Elected Officials Go Through a Background Check?

Currently, politicians are not required to partake in background screening as we know it. In most cases, the election process itself is a validation of the elected official to bypass background screening and receive any security clearances. Most political appointees, such as high-ranking presidential advisors, ambassadors and cabinet members, will have FBI checks and certain vetting procedures performed on their financial and employment histories, but typical background screening checks are not completed. A cabinet member is nominated by the President and then presented to the Senate for confirmation or rejection by a simple majority. The members of a cabinet are serving at will and can resign or are dismissed by the president, and then the whole process starts all over again.

The inauguration of a new president brings changes in philosophy, leadership and staffing. Thousands of new personnel need to be screened, vetted, confirmed or hired in a very short amount of time to take over spots vacated by the outgoing administration. As the confirmation hearings are set to begin, there have been news stories noting that some of the new president’s administration nominees have not been properly screened and vetted via the Office of Government Ethics. Walter, M. Shaub Jr, director of the Office of Government Ethics stated his concern in a letter to Congress saying it has “left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings.” However, the hearings will more than likely take place without the completed review.

Security Clearances for Elected Officials

Members of Congress, Cabinet members and administration official have access to classified information. To receive sensitive data, these public officials need to obtain a security clearance. Security clearances for elected officials are based on a “need-to-know” and tradition. This means they will only be granted access to classified information when they need to know it. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, there are not specific written rules on who receives the information or how it is shared. The Office of Senate Security and the Office of House Security are in-charge of the security clearance process for Congress and the background investigations are conducted by the FBI.

The Great Political Background Screening Debate

There have been debates for years between opponents of background screening for politicians and those that believe that it should be done on every candidate. The proponents believe that having background screening for politicians as a way to deter future scandals while opponents believe that it could compromise the independence of legislators on all levels of government. This debate isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

Every organization is different and requires unique solutions for the hiring process. While politicians might not be required to participate in background screening checks, their voters will continue to be. Find insights and critical information on the most common types of background checks, compliance tips, verification processes and how to maximize your Form I-9 process in our eBook in our eBook, Background Screening 101.

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Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.