Can You Get a Government Job with a Felony?

Most employers conduct background checks on job applicants, and the federal government is no exception.  If you have a criminal record, but want to become a government employee, there's both good news and bad news: you might be able to get the job you want, but it depends on what you were convicted of, and which type of occupation you're interested in pursuing.  Drug crimes and domestic violence crimes can present major obstacles when it comes to working as a civil servant.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, or OPM, is the federal agency tasked with overseeing various civil service (government) positions.  Some examples of civil service occupations include:

If you're worried that you'll never be eligible for a government position due to your criminal record, you can probably relax.  The OPM states the following on its website:

"Being an ex-offender does not prevent you from obtaining Federal Employment.  OPM or the hiring agency considers your criminal conduct in determining your suitability but there are no general prohibitions against hiring you."

That being said, obtaining a government position can be more challenging for people with former criminal convictions.  As the OPM notes, "There are some regulations which will prohibit you from working in certain positions if you have a specific conviction."

One of these restrictions is set forth in the Public Law 1-4-208 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997, which states that persons who have been convicted of crimes involving domestic violence are "prohibited from employment in any position requiring the individual: to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms or ammunition."  This includes misdemeanors, and applies regardless of whether the domestic violence incident was charged as a state crime or a federal crime.  Depending on the context of the offense, some examples of crimes with a domestic violence element could include:

From a practical standpoint, this is the chief prohibition against which convicted offenders must contend.  The OPM states that, while "other statutory or regulatory debarments exist," these regulations "are rarely applicable" due to the obscure nature of the offenses they cover: namely treason, destruction of public records, inciting rebellion against the United States, or "knowingly and willfully advocating the overthrow of the U.S. Government."

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Unfortunately, former offenders aren't necessarily in the clear simply because they were convicted of something other than domestic violence or the anti-government crimes noted above.  It all depends on which government agency you intend on applying to.

For instance, a felony conviction of any type is one of the FBI's many employment disqualifiers.  FBI job applicants will also be disqualified from consideration if they use illegal drugs or fail a urine test.  This extends to marijuana (cannabis), which remains illegal at the federal level despite being legalized or decriminalized for medical and/or recreational purposes in many states.  Moreover, current FBI employees will be terminated for drug use, or for misdemeanor or felony convictions.

Though the FBI is extremely strict with regard to its drug policy, it does make several exceptions for drug use occurring in the past.  You may be eligible for FBI employment if:

Note these exceptions relate merely to drug use (for which applicants will be tested) - not to actual convictions.  You cannot work for the FBI if you have ever, at any time, "sold, distributed, manufactured, or transported any illegal drug."

pre-employment screening

With regard to pre-employment screenings, the OPM provides more than 100 different government agencies with "investigative products and services" - in other words, tools to perform background checks on job applicants.  In fact, the OPM is responsible for the vast majority of all federal background checks: more than 90%, or about two million investigations annually.

These investigations are conducted by Federal Investigative Services (FIS), and provide the foundation "for making security clearance, suitability, or fitness determinations."  FIS derives its authority to conduct investigations from a collection of statutes and Executive Orders, such as Executive Order 12968 and Executive Order 10450.  The OPM/FIS might contact:

If you've been charged with a crime in Philadelphia, not only could you be facing fines and incarceration - you could also lose the opportunity to chase the career of your dreams.  If you or someone you love has been arrested for a felony or misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, you need an experienced defense lawyer on your side in court.  To set up free legal consultation with the criminal attorneys of Krasner & Long, call our law offices right away at (215) 882-9752.  We will keep your information confidential.

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