Source: Christian Davenport, Washington Post, June 14, 2015
For years, investigators charged with vetting the backgrounds of those who handle the nation’s secrets have said they were pressured to churn through cases as quickly as possible. The faster they turned them in, the faster their company got paid — even if the investigations were rushed and incomplete. The company, USIS, lost the contract to conduct background checks used in granting security clearances after an employee blew the whistle in a lawsuit, eventually joined by the Justice Department. In the wake of a scandal so fierce that members of Congress accused USIS of defrauding the government and prioritizing profit over the nation’s security, federal officials vowed to prevent such abuses from ever happening again. But a similar quota system used by USIS to drive its investigators continues at the companies that now perform the bulk of the investigations — and in some cases is even more demanding, according to internal company documents and interviews with current and former investigators. The field workers at KeyPoint Government Solutions and CACI are required to meet pre-determined numbers that dictate how many people they have to interview per day. With their compensation tied to quotas — failure to meet them could lead to a cut in pay — field investigators say the focus on quantity over quality that was so pervasive at USIS persists. And the pressure to meet the goals often doesn’t allow them the freedom to follow important leads to determine who should be granted access to classified material, they say. …..
Commentary: Congress’ Responsibility to Protect the Government is Paramount
Source: Robert A. Burton, Roll Call, September 25, 2014
August is usually a quiet month in Washington, but this summer’s recess was interrupted by news of a data breach at the federal contractor United States Investigations Services. The breach may have exposed the personal information of up to 25,000 government employees, including undercover government investigators and border agents, and has raised alarm on Capitol Hill. The implications for our national security are serious and could get worse. … With USIS in the news for all the wrong reasons, and with senators and congressmen raising serious concerns about the contractor’s conduct, it came as a surprise when the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently awarded the company another support services contract worth $190 million to help prevent criminals and terrorists from applying for citizenship benefits….
Government To Drop Background Check Firm USIS
Source: Scott Neuman, NPR, September 10, 2014
The Office of Personnel Management is severing its ties with a private contractor that provides many of the security background checks for the U.S. government after the company was hit by a cyberattack last month that compromised the files of thousands of federal workers. The OPM said late Tuesday that “following a careful and comprehensive review,” it had decided not to renew its contracts with Falls Church, Va.-based USIS. USIS was targeted in August by a cyberattack that compromised the files of 25,000 Homeland Security workers. The FBI is investigating. The firm has called the hack a “state-sponsored attack.” USIS, which was responsible for vetting Aaron Alexis, the Washington Navy Yard shooter who killed 12 people, although OPM later said the background check on Alexis had been “complete and in compliance” with standards. USIS also checked Edward Snowden, the government contractor who leaked classified information on U.S. electronic surveillance….
Office of Personnel Management must beef up its reviews of federal contractors, report says
Source: Josh Hicks, Washington Post, June 15, 2014
Questionable work, poor oversight and lack of training have weakened background checks for federal employees and contractors, according to a recent report from the Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general. Federal auditors determined that OPM, which oversees U.S. government background checks, must strengthen its controls over the firms that conduct screenings….OPM announced in February that it would no longer allow contractors to review their own background checks and that it would rely on its own employees to do the work. The agency also said it has established an internal team to audit contractors’ performance, in addition to increasing the number of inspections it performs and implementing an automated tracking tool to ensure that reviewers meet investigative standards before closing cases. The inspector general’s analysis looked at the processes OPM and its contractors used for reviewing background checks and recommended how to improve the system. USIS declined to comment on the audit Thursday….
Audit of the Federal Investigative Services’ Case Review Process Over Background Investigations
Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Inspector General, Office of Audits, Report Number: 4A-IS-00-13-062, June 4, 2014
OPM: Contractors will no longer review their own background checks
Source: Josh Hicks, Washington Post, February 7, 2014
The federal government will no longer use contractors to review the quality of their own background checks, instead relying on its own employees to do the audits. Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta said in a statement on Thursday that she would make the process ”fully federalized” starting on Feb. 24. “This decision acts as an internal quality control preventing any contractor from performing the final quality review of its own work,” she said. The move follows the Justice Department’s filing of a lawsuit last month saying that the support-services firm USIS filed more than 660,000 background checks of U.S. government hires without properly reviewing the investigations. The Washington Post first reported that federal investigators had evidence of the alleged transgressions in June. ….
U.S. Accuses Security Background Check Firm of Fraud / Justice Department Says USIS Methodically Filed Flawed Background Investigations
Source: Dion Nissenbaum, Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2014
The Justice Department on Wednesday accused the government’s largest private security background check contractor of defrauding the country of millions of dollars by methodically filing more than 660,000 flawed background investigations—40% of the cases it sent to the government over a four-year period. Prosecutors accused former top US Investigations Services LLC executives of directing improper practices that became a subject of internal jokes among company officials who helped secure millions of dollars in bonuses from the U.S. government. The details emerged as the Justice Department filed a 25-page civil complaint to join a whistleblowers’ lawsuit against USIS under way in U.S. District Court in Alabama. In the complaint, U.S. attorneys accused USIS of using its close ties with the federal government to conceal the so-called practice of flushing background checks—sending the government cases that didn’t have proper review. …
… The company handles about 45% of federal background checks, which are used by the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security and more than 100 other federal agencies. The government uses the USIS background investigations to determine whether or not to give millions of people access to classified programs and buildings. About 90% of the company’s work comes from the U.S. government. Over the past decade, USIS has been awarded more than $4 billion in federal contracts, according to contracting records…
Workers at USIS, which vetted Alexis and Snowden, felt pressure to do more, faster
Source: Jia Lynn Yang, Washington Post, September 20, 2013
…. The story of how USIS became the biggest private name in background checks is unusual. The company was originally part of OPM. But during the Clinton administration, with the Cold War long over, there was less demand for security clearances. As part of Clinton’s “reinvent government” initiative, the employees of OPM’s security and investigations unit were transferred in 1996 to a private firm, wholly owned by the workers. It was a first for the government. The move was so revolutionary that many OPM employees and members of Congress vehemently opposed the plan. “National defense, security, and the fitness and suitability of the Federal workforce are not commodities like hammers, ashtrays, and space toilets to be traded on the open market and sold to the lowest bidder,” said Deborah Abraham Apperson, an OPM employee, in testimony on Capitol Hill in 1996….
Dead Interviewed in Fake U.S. Government Background Checks
Source: Chris Strohm and Nick Taborek, Washington Post and Bloomberg, July 8, 2013
…Domico is among 20 investigators who have pleaded guilty or have been convicted of falsifying such reports since 2006. Half of them worked for companies such as Altegrity Inc., which performed a background check on national-security contractor Edward Snowden. The cases may represent a fraction of the fabrications in a government vetting process with little oversight, according to lawmakers and U.S. watchdog officials….
…Snowden held a top-secret clearance, and his background check was done by the USIS unit of Falls Church, Virginia-based Altegrity in 2011, according to Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. USIS, the government’s No. 1 provider of such work with $253 million in awards this year, is under investigation by an inspector general who has said there may have been shortcomings in the company’s vetting of Snowden. Among the 10 background-check workers employed by contractors who have been convicted or pleaded guilty to falsifying records since 2006, eight of them had worked for USIS, according to the inspector general for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The personnel agency is responsible for about 90 percent of the government’s background checks. In one case, Kayla M. Smith, a former investigative specialist for USIS, submitted some 1,600 falsified credit reports, according to the inspector general’s office….