Federal Background Check Misconduct Sparks New Legislation

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The US Department of Justice is taking swift action on the company they contracted to conduct their background checks, including those performed on Edward Snowden and the Washington Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis. On January 22, 2014, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against U.S. Investigative Services, accusing them of defrauding the U.S. of millions of dollars.

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USIS was contracted to conduct background checks on Edward Snowden and the Washington Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis.

USIS, the government’s largest security background check contractor, supposedly conducted 665,000 fake background checks between 2008 and 2012. According to the Justice Department, who filed their claim in the U.S. District Court in Alabama, “USIS management devised and executed a scheme to deliberately circumvent contractually required quality reviews of completed background investigations in order to increase the company’s revenues and profits.”

There are internal emails which back up the charges that senior officials within USIS, devised a wide-ranging “scheme” in order to defraud the federal government on background checks, using a practice they referred to as “dumping” or “flushing”, all to boost the firm’s profits. One email written by a “workload leader” to USIS director of National Quality Assurance in April 2012 reads “shelves are as clean as they could get.” Another being quoted “Scalping tickets for ‘Dick Clark’s Dumpin’ New Year’s Eve!’ … Who needs 2?”

This “dumping” or “flushing” practice, involved providing certification to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that a full “quality review” background check had been performed, when in reality those reviews were never completed. Using a software program named “Blue Zone”, USIS was able to mark large volumes of cases as thoroughly reviewed, then fraudulently certify them to OPM.

From March 2008 to September 2012, the 665,000 background investigations that were released to OPM as fraudulently completed amounted to about 40% of all the background checks performed by USIS during this period. These alleged fraudulent background checks were performed on employees seeking security clearance at the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice Department and various other federal agencies.

The lawsuit alleges that the USIS senior management “was fully aware of, and in fact, directed the dumping practices.” It also notes that under its contract, between 2008 and 2010, USIS was paid $11.7 million in bonuses.

Touting themselves on their website, as “the leader in federal background investigations,” USIS provided a statement to NBC News saying that “a small group of individuals” were responsible for the bogus checks and that their conduct was “contrary to our values and commitment to exceptional service.” USIS also stated, “Since first learning of these allegations nearly two years ago, we have acted decisively to reinforce our processes and management to ensure the quality of our work and adherence to OPM requirements. We’ve appointed a new leadership team, enhanced oversight procedures, and improved control protocols. From the outset, we have fully cooperated with the government’s investigation and remain focused on delivering the highest quality service under our OPM contracts.”

An anonymous source spoke to NBC News and said that some of the employees involved in the fraud had been terminated and that all of the individuals cited in the complaint, even top USIS executives, no longer worked for the firm.

Sen. Claire McCaskill holds chair in the Senate panel responsible for investigating USIS and she believes that this complaint highlights the need for new legislation to require tighter oversight of federal contractors performing background checks. She states, “By now, the stunning failures of this company—and the resulting threats to our national security—are well documented. But we can’t wait for the next disaster before tackling something as serious as lapses in protecting our nation’s secrets and our secure facilities.”

Greed can be a huge motivator and even though you may do your due diligence when hiring a firm to provide your background checks, periodic follow-ups and questions are always a good practice. Our team here at Backgrounds Online are ready to answer any inquiries you may have about background screening procedures.

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