Background Check Companies Working for Government Still Doing Amateurish Jobs

Monday, June 16, 2014
Sterling Phillips, president and CEO of USIS

Private contractors performing background checks for federal government security clearances continue to do a shoddy job, putting people and secrets at risk and wasting taxpayer dollars.


Following the disclosure of volumes of classified information by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and after the fatal shooting in September at the Washington Navy Yard by contractor Aaron Alexis, it was assumed that these private companies would hold themselves to a higher standard.


However, an audit by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which pays three companies to conduct most employee security clearance checks, revealed that the work too often results in incomplete reviews that lead to workers not being fully vetted. The three contractors, USIS, CACI and KSG, are routinely being paid for subpar investigations, OPM’s inspector general (IG) found.


In one case, a single reviewer at one company “completed” 15,152 background investigations in just one month (a daily average of more than 500), “with most of these occurring within minutes of each other on multiple days,” the IG’s report states.


The audit also discovered at least 17 investigation reports were turned into OPM without a manager at the contractor first reviewing them, which went against procedure.

“As a result of no reviews occurring on these [reports of investigations] prior to submission to OPM, the contractors have not complied with contract requirements and have been paid for work that was not reviewed,” the audit reads. “In addition, the lack of reviews can lead to inadequate work being performed and background investigation cases being potentially compromised.”


The IG’s investigation delved into background checks performed from August 26 through December 2, 2013.


Some steps have been taken to improve the clearance process, specifically the passage of the Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act in February, which provides funding for more IG audits.


One of the co-sponsors of the law, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), told Government Executive, “This troubling audit shows we have to do more to tighten controls over the system and its contractors—such as automated review and more rigid oversight.”


“The kinds of threats facing this country today mean there can be no room for error when vetting the folks we trust with access to classified information,” she added.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Contractors Are Still Taking Short Cuts on Background Checks, Audit Finds (by Charles Clark, Government Executive)

Audit of the Federal Investigative Services’ Case Review Process over Background Investigations (Office of Personnel Management, Inspector General)

U.S. Charges with Fraud the Security Firm that Approved Snowden and Navy Yard Murderer (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Does Privatization of Federal Employee Background Checks Lead to More Security Breaches? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Accused Torture Contractor Sues Abu Ghraib Torture Victims (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Lateesha Green 2 years ago
This really upsets me. After working for this company for a few months, I was ostracized for being "too thorough" during my fieldwork. I brought it to my immediate supervisor's attention, his supervisor and I also contacted the integrity line, witch trickled my concern down to Human Resources, who pretty much dismissed me and acted as if I was the one with the problem. I ended up resigning, just 3 weeks shy of one year of employment.

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