Sneak Preview: CNCS Proposes To Revise Criminal History Rules

Jerry Ashworth
January 31, 2020 at 07:12:13 ET
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(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) seeks comments from stakeholders on proposed regulatory changes designed to simplify its existing National Service Criminal History Check (NSCHC) procedures by requiring grant recipients to use vendors to conduct these checks.

CNCS first established its NSCHC regulation in 2007, and amended it in 2009 and 2012 to implement provisions of the Serve America Act (Pub. L. 111-13). The regulation, codified at 45 C.F.R. Part 2540, states that an NSCHC is required for individuals in “covered positions” at entities receiving CNCS grants. The proposed rule would define a “covered position” as staff working under CNCS grants as AmeriCorps State and National members, foster grandparents, senior companion volunteers, or those in a position in which they will receive a salary and will be listed on the budget under a cost-reimbursement grant. The proposal adds that an NSCHC would not be required for individuals under the age of 18 on the first day of work or service in a covered position, or individuals whose activity is entirely included in the grant recipient’s indirect cost rate.

CNCS noted that recipients and subrecipients have faced challenges complying with the current regulation, which requires them to conduct checks that satisfied certain “components” (i.e., a nationwide check of the National Sex Offender Public website, a check of the state criminal history record repository or designated alternative for the individual’s state of residence and state of service, and a fingerprint-based check of the FBI criminal history record database through the state criminal history record repository). “Successful implementation of the NSCHC process by grant recipients has been frustrated, in part, by access to state sources of criminal history record information, requirements of state law and [state] restrictions on sharing information,” CNCS explained. Grant recipient noncompliance with the current regulation also has been detailed in CNCS Office of Inspector General reports in recent years.

The agency has taken steps since 2018 to help grant recipients conduct criminal history checks. For example, CNCS made available a list of approved vendors for CNCS grant recipients to use to establish accounts to obtain the required NSCHC components. The agency also has made grant funds available to enable recipients to recheck individuals who need to have an NSCHC conducted, and has stated that it would not, except in limited circumstances, take enforcement action against grant recipients for past noncompliance. As of Sept. 25, 2019, some 1,942 accounts were established with the new vendors, resulting in almost 94,000 checks.

To that end, CNCS is now proposing to require that grant recipients establish accounts, and conduct and document an NSCHC through a CNCS-approved vendor, unless the recipient receives a CNCS-approved waiver. “By establishing one path for obtaining compliant checks, CNCS will simplify the process and make use of technological innovations that will help CNCS and its grantees monitor and improve NSCHC compliance,” the agency explained. “CNCS’ intent is to establish systems and requirements that allow grant recipients to effectively demonstrate compliance.”

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time here.)

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