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A friend of mine recently applied for a job in the federal government. He was miffed when he found out that the federal government would run a background check on him that included pulling his credit report.
Related: The History of Credit Scores
He couldn’t understand for the life of him why the federal government would care about his finances when he was applying for an IT job. He assumed that the government would only look at his finances if he was applying for an accounting position to ensure that he knew how handle money. So, he thought it made no difference if he was on top of his payments or not for the job he was applying to.
I tried to explain that everyone hired for a federal government job undergoes the same scrutiny. Everyone receives a basic background check that includes both criminal and credit histories. This is to ensure that all federal employees hired are “reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the United States,” according to the Customs and Border Control website.
My response didn’t make much of a difference to him. He couldn’t understand why anyone would try to cheat the government with how great the government pension is.
Why Would the Government Want to Look at Your Credit?
If the government notices a lot of missed payments, that could indicate your lack of organization or responsibility. Who wants to hire a flaky individual who can’t hold up their end of the bargain?
Additionally, your credit history can indicate whether you would be a good or bad fit for a job that involves properly handling the government’s money and information.
Finally, if an individual has excessive debt, that may indicate financial distress. And, financial distress may result in theft or even fraud.
Think about all the times that we have read about government or contractor personnel mishandling trusted information for their own financial gain?
Here is a quick list, including a brief bio/background and a recommended book on each of them.
Notable U.S. Spies
Ames was an Operations Officer in the CIA from 1962-1994, who sold classified secrets to the Russians. He received over $2.5 million from the Russians in his lifetime. He battled with serious alcoholism, but he wasn’t really on the government’s radar until he started spending some serious money while receiving a $60,000 salary. This spending included cosmetic dentistry, tailor-made suits, a $540,000 home paid in cash, a $50,000 Jaguar, and extensive home remodeling. If those don’t scream “red flags” given his salary, I don’t know what does. He was convicted in 1994.
Boone was a US Army signals intelligence analyst from 1970-1991. The Russians paid him $20,000 for intelligence. According to an FBI report, Boone was under “severe financial and personal difficulties” in 1988, when he began spying for the Russians. He was convicted in 1999.
Gowadia was a contractor for Northrop Grumman from 1968-1986, working on technology relating to the B-2 Spirit Bomber. He travelled to China from 2003-2005 to “provide defense services in the form of design, test support and test data analysis of technologies to assist the PRC with a cruise missile system by developing a stealthy exhaust nozzle,” in exchange for $100,000. He was convicted in 2011.
Pitts worked for the FBI from 1983-1996. The Russians paid Pitts more than $224,000. When they asked him why he committed espionage, Pitts stated that he had many grievances with the FBI. His desire was to “pay [the FBI] back”. Upon his conviction in 1997, Pitts also warned authorities that he thought Robert Hanssen might be committing espionage. Unfortunately, the FBI did not act on that hunch.
Hanssen worked for the FBI in the counterintelligence unit from 1975-2001. The Russians paid Hanssen more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a 22-year period. He was convicted in 2002.
Pollard worked for the Navy Field Operational Intelligence office from 1979-1985. Prior, the CIA had rejected him prior due to drug use. He received payments of up to $2,500 per month to work for the Israelis. Pollard claimed that the compensation was merely the cherry on top (i.e. he was not doing it for the money). He was convicted in 1986.
The Government’s Response
Most of these men did not seemingly “need” the extra money. However, if someone did need additional funds, that would give further cause for suspicion. With the amount of times that people working within our government have betrayed it, I don’t blame the government for looking into different areas of potential candidates.
I can’t even imagine how many people have committed espionage that we don’t know of over the years. It’s no wonder why the government is willing to spend some additional time and money to ensure that its employees won’t profit from the accessible information. While it may be hard to screen for greediness, a poor financial history can definitely shed some light.
However, once people enter the government, it is possible for their financial situation to go awry. Former congressman Jason Chaffetz published a report disclosing that 100,000 federal civilian employees owed more than $1 billion in unpaid federal income taxes and approximately 63,800 contractors owed more than $7 billion in back taxes in FY 2015. Point being, even if one’s financial situation is good prior to government employment, there is always a chance that things can change for the worse.
While my friend doesn’t appreciate that the government is looking into him, it does make a lot of sense. The government, along with other organizations and companies, wants to prevent employees from potentially profiting from confidential information.