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Department of Justice Strengthens Reference Checking
The Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has released a report, Reference Checking in the Department of Justice, which describes its internal evaluation of reference checking in DOJ hiring processes.  The report examined how “…DOJ components contact job applicants’ references to evaluate their past performance when making hiring decisions.”  The report discusses the standards used and data gathered and makes recommendations to improve DOJ’s assessment procedures, showing how cross-agency guidance can be applied to an individual agency’s mission- and occupation-specific hiring needs.

Evaluation Against Suggested Standards of Practice
DOJ based their review on best practice recommendations from MSPB’s report, Reference Checking in Federal Hiring:  Making the Call, and guidance from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM’s) web-based Reference Checking.  The guidance from MSPB and OPM is closely aligned, with OPM frequently citing MSPB’s previous report findings when crafting its guidance. Notable, both agencies recommend—

Also, both agencies describe specific techniques for collecting information through references, such as using open-ended questions and obtaining additional references by “chaining” through coworkers of each applicant.

What DOJ Found
DOJ found that high-quality reference checking was performed for new DOJ attorneys, but was not widely used for hiring into law enforcement and other positions.  Of the 39 organizational components within DOJ, only 3 (about 8 percent) had clear and complete written reference checking guidance based on best practices.  Another 22 components (56 percent) had some written policy or suggested questions that could benefit from additional information.  The remaining 14 components (36 percent) had no written guidance for reference checking.

The report concludes that every future DOJ hiring action should include reference checking and recommends remedying shortfalls in guidance.  To that end, DOJ plans to create an easily-accessible reference checking web page that collects internal and external guidance, model procedures, and sample questions.  When completed, this web page will be a useful resource for other Federal agencies as well as DOJ.

Reference Checks in Perspective
Reference checks are just one method to assess an applicant’s training and experience (T&E) during the hiring process.  Other methods include resumes, occupational questionnaires, and accomplishment records.  MSPB’s forthcoming report, Probing the Past:  Assessment of Training and Experience describes some of the challenges agencies face when using T&E assessments and some of the strategies they use to get the most from them.  Watch for this report in the studies section of MSPB’s web site (