So, your ticket is booked, your hotel room is reserved and you’ve registered early for the Mid-Year NAPBS Conference. Now, you’re considering how to make the most out of your experience and if you read my blog from last week, I planted the seed for why I think participating in Advocacy Day could be one of the most meaningful and rewarding experiences of your career.

Before I begin stating my case, let me just share how cool it is to walk through the halls of our federal government and meet our regulators, elected officials and their staffers. I know that Washington D.C. is a deeply polarized place right now, but it is amazing what happens when the cameras and mics are off. People actually talk about what is important to them without using soundbites and listen to what stakeholders have to say. They might not always share your point of view or suddenly shift their stance on an issue, but they do try to learn so that they can have a more informed perspective. 

Over the years, I had the great pleasure of attending Advocacy Day and meeting with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) and countless senate and congressional offices from both sides of the aisle. I was able to meet with senators and congressmen from my home state and share why the background screening industry was helping to protect businesses as well as their employees and customers. We discussed issues ranging from employment discrimination and public safety to privacy, consumer protection and the value (or lack thereof) of the FBI background check for employment purposes. 

Listed below are the top 3 reasons you should consider participating.

  1. Shape Opinions and Influence Public Policy- Clearly, you care deeply about the value employment background checks have in protecting the public or you wouldn’t be reading this. You also know that not everyone feels the same. Over my years of participation, I always felt like I learned invaluable information about our regulators’ priorities and about how our elected officials and their staffers felt about the issues affecting the use of background checks. As importantly though, I knew that the information, data, and points of view we shared, helped reinforce the opinions of those favorable to our causes and caused those who were not, to reconsider or reframe how they thought about our industry and the work we do. Case in point, one year we met with Senator Chuck Schumer’s staff to discuss a bill he wanted to propose which would mandate FBI background checks for all day-care and after-school care employees. The bill was well-intended, but we helped to educate his team on the limitations of an FBI background check. They were genuinely surprised by what we shared and agreed to modify their proposal accordingly. Another example was the first meeting I ever attended with the EEOC. They genuinely thought that CRA’s were actually making hiring decisions as opposed to just furnishing the information to employers.
  2. What You Learn is Invaluable- You’ll learn all kinds of valuable information about legislative agendas, enforcement priorities, beliefs and attitudes, etc. This is particularly true of meetings with regulators. To illustrate this point, let me provide a real-life experience. In 2011, I sat in on a meeting with the FTC where they stated that their top priority was to do a deep dive on those selling social media background checks. This was interesting on its own because many CRA’s were considering rolling this product out to their clients but were concerned about how to do so and maintain compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. And from a personal standpoint at EmployeeScreenIQ, we were thinking about making a major investment in this product line. I walked out of that meeting, called my partners and needless to say, we decided to pause on that investment. Beyond, the information that can benefit your business directly is the information you can share with your clients. For instance, can you imagine how impressed our clients were when we shared the information, we learned about the FTC’s interest in social media checks or in 2010 when we notified them that the EEOC was planning to release new guidance on employers’ use of criminal background checks? Those kinds of insights are what make you relevant in your clients’ eyes and establish you as a valuable business partner.
  3. Develop Relationships with Elected and Appointed Officials- The relationships you build may have long-ranging benefits. For instance, I helped to organize an event sponsored by the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA), NAPBS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in March of 2012 geared towards educating various stakeholders in Washington about the value of criminal background checks in the hiring process. While there, I met Peter Kirsanow, a Commissioner of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights. He had just given one of the most impressive speeches I had ever heard advocating for the value background checks provided in maintaining public safety. I introduced myself and learned that he was from Cleveland (my hometown) and was a partner at a law firm that we used from time to time. We stayed in touch and in late 2012, I was invited by Peter’s team to testify on behalf of the screening industry at a committee hearing he was holding on how responsible employers used this important hiring tool. It was such an honor to represent the industry and share why our work was so important. Also, remember the story I mentioned about our interest in social media background checks? After the initial meeting we had during Advocacy Day, we were able to speak with someone we had met at the FTC, to get an informal reaction to the business model we were considering. After she explained what we would have to do in order to maintain FCRA compliance, we decided to focus our energy and efforts on our core business.

Okay, so you’re ready to sign up? Just let me share a couple important items you should consider if you decide to participate.

  • Don’t use this as an opportunity to promote yourself or your company- Your fellow advocates will dislike you intensely and you will most likely be excluded from future participation.  
  • Don’t deviate from the issues that NAPBS and your colleagues have agreed to address- There’s a reason these issues have been selected and NAPBS has already prepped the people in your meetings that these are the topics you intend to discuss.
  • Check partisanship and political beliefs at the door- The idea here is to get people on your side or at least listen to your point of view.
  • Don’t be disappointed if you don’t meet a senator of congressmen- Staffers help to shape the views and policies of their bosses. They are their eyes, ears and spokespeople.