The Obama administration is proposing a rule that would prohibit federal agencies from asking certain job applicants questions about criminal and credit history until a conditional offer of employment has been made.

The administration said that early inquiries about criminal history can unnecessarily narrow the pool of qualified candidates and make it that much harder for those with criminal histories to support themselves and their families.

Beth Cobert, the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, told reporters in a conference call that the rule being proposed Friday would give applicants from all segments of society a "fair chance" to compete for federal jobs. She said that early screening for criminal history can prematurely disqualify applicants from consideration without agencies checking whether an arrest actually led to a conviction.

The proposed rule would cover jobs in which applicants must compete with others in an open competition, but it won't apply to many of the positions dealing with national security, intelligence and law enforcement, Cobert said.

President Barack Obama had already directed the government's personnel office to wait until later in the hiring process to ask about criminal histories. The proposed rule would formalize that process.

Obama has intensified efforts during the final months of his presidency to help the previously incarcerated. Each year, more than 600,000 people are released from federal and state prisons, and millions more are released each year from local jails. He has said that helping those who have paid their debt to society can reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars.

The White House also noted that more companies are committing to undertaking similar efforts to remove barriers in the hiring of those with a criminal record. In all, the White House said, 112 companies and organizations employing more than 1.5 million people have committed to ensuring that information about criminal history is considered in the proper context. Microsoft, Best Buy, Kellogg Co. and Catholic Charities were among those who committed to the effort.