By Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. agency that oversees personnel hiring for the federal government will propose a rule that would remove questions about criminal history from job applications, the Office of Personnel Management said on Thursday.
If the rule is enacted, tens of thousands of people who apply for federal government jobs annually would not have to disclose their criminal histories until after they are given a conditional job offer.
The concept is known as "ban the box" because it removes the box on job applications checked by those with a criminal record.
Banning the box has gained traction in the private sector and some municipalities as efforts to reduce the length of prison sentences and increase opportunities for former prisoners have progressed in recent years.
A bipartisan Senate bill to lower sentences for non-violent offenders moved forward on Thursday.
Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Beth Cobert said on a call with reporters the rule "would ensure that applicants with a criminal history have a fair chance to compete for a federal job."
Cobert said asking about an applicant's criminal record at an early stage in the hiring process "could lead to premature disqualification of otherwise eligible candidates."
The rule would not apply to federal workers in the intelligence community, national security or law enforcement, Cobert said.
Last year about 100,000 people applied for federal jobs that would be affected by the rule, according to Cobert.
Once the proposed rule is published, it will undergo a public comment period, after which it may be revised, dismissed or enforced.
(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by James Dalgleish)