By Judith A. Gootkind, NAPBS Treasurer
As members of leadership teams for consumer reporting agencies, we are well versed in client interface, vendor management, company presentations and communication. It is from this venue that I side-stepped onto another platform in the early years of the new millennium and began to engage in the legislative and regulatory arena. I mention this because if I can do it, you can too!
At first it was a visit to the New York Office of Court Administration to explore the potential for a solution to their narrow and costly search. This was followed by a meeting with the General Counsel for the RI Supreme Court and the Executive Director of the Judicial Technology Center to talk about redaction of information from the electronic version of court records. The chase was on in the never ending reactionary world our industry operates in. I testified at a MA Judiciary Committee hearing for MA CORI legislation followed by a hearing at the CT Department of Public Safety at which I argued against the need to have a CT PI license in order to do background screening in that state. Of particular note is that it was at the CT hearing that I met Montserrat Miller. Little did I know how much work she and I would do together over the years that followed!
Our industry has been the target for issues that have surfaced around consumer privacy, data protection, ex-offender re-entry into the workplace and consumer reporting. Whether it is as a barrier to employment or catalyst for disparate impact in the hiring process consumer reporting agencies are in the line of fire. I don’t agree with these notions for a minute but trying to move the mountain has been a challenge.
When I moved into a Director position on the NAPBS Board, the baton was passed to me from the outgoing chair to interface with a group that was focused on transparency in government. I have participated in periodic conference calls with a coalition of individuals from all aspects of our industry ever since. There was the occasional request for our association to participate in amicus briefs on First Amendment issues concerning open access to public records and freedom of speech. There were NAPBS Action Alerts generated by our Government Relations Committee that successfully affected change. The background screening industry started to show up regularly in the win column. Collectively, we began to make a difference!
However as we make ground on one front our energy is diverted to new issues such as recidivism, published studies on the matter and the inappropriate assumptive use of that information. Of late, individual elements of background investigations are being scrutinized. The use of credit and criminal for employment purposes are under the microscope at the state and federal level. The EEOC has held meetings on both and promotes initiatives on the topic at the state level. We are told that the Commission is reviewing and amending guidance on the use of criminal records by our end user clients. What will that look like?
In my mind, the most important goal of the work that so many have undertaken over the last decade is to get in front of the issues. The time has come to stop chasing the various challenges that we have had to hurdle. For too long, we have been in a reactive mode and we must reverse that trend.
As a result of a tremendous outreach effort, many individuals representing their companies or associations have come forward and joined the fight for enlightenment and education on the societal benefits of background checks. There is strength in the collective message. Out of the public relations campaign on what we stand for there appears to be a shift in the debate. With every win we gain attention. More often it is our opinion that is sought and our voice that is listened to. We are being invited to testify, participate in meaningful dialogue with our regulators and legislators and have a seat at the table. This is the proactive posture we have been seeking which is now within reach. I encourage each of you to get involved. Step up and support these efforts to ensure the continuance of the important work we do for safety in our communities and in the workplace. It will take all of us to accomplish this end.
Judy Gootkind is the VP of Finance and Administration for Creative Services, Inc. She currently serves as the NAPBS Treasurer.