Weak Link in Government Security: Security Clearances Dependant on Profit-Oriented Deadlines

Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Merton Miller, Federal Investigative Services (photo: LinkedIn)

Companies performing security background checks for the U.S. government continue to operate on a piecework basis with their investigators, often causing them to sacrifice thoroughness for expediency.


One contractor, USIS, spent years rushing through investigations of government employees seeking security clearances. Company officials said they had little choice but to speed through the reviews because their payments from the government were linked to how many investigations they performed. USIS lost its contract after an employee filed a suit, eventually joined by the Justice Department, about the company’s practices.


Two new companies were hired to do the background checks: KeyPoint Government Solutions and CACI, but the problem persists, according to The Washington Post.


Both contractors demand their investigators meet daily quotas and their pay continues to be based on the number of investigations completed. The companies do this because it’s the same way they’re paid by the federal government, complete with financial penalties for missing deadlines.


The government agency in charge of the process claimed to be unaware that the investigators’ pay was tied to the number of cases they cleared. “Candidly, that has not been brought to my attention,” Merton Miller, the associate director for the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Investigative Services, told the Post.


Carolyn Martin, president of the American Federal Contract Investigators Association, a professional group, told the Post the system is “just producing shoddy investigations.”


“They are out there getting the points. They are not conducting investigations,” Martin said.


An investigator who had worked for both USIS and KeyPoint said: “It was just too rushed. I couldn’t in good conscience continue. I refused to cut corners, and it made me look like I couldn’t perform to their unreasonable expectations.”


There are also problems at the Transportation Security Administration. A report (pdf) by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found that the airports, which perform background checks for aviation workers, sometimes had incomplete information on applicants. Some who got through the process didn’t even have permission to work in the United States.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Even after Snowden, Quota System on Background Checks May Be Imperiling U.S. Secrets (by Christian Davenport, Washington Post)

TSA Can Improve Aviation Worker Vetting (Redacted) (Department of Homeland Security Inspector General) (pdf)

The Number of People with Security Clearances Drops by 12%, but 1.2 Million Still have Top Secret Access (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Background Check Companies Working for Government Still Doing Amateurish Jobs (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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


Robert Canulla 9 years ago
I belong to a number of organizations that represent Background Investigators and I am very familiar with the tales of horror concerning several major companies that perform BI's for the US Government. As a retired federal criminal investigator, I have butted heads with management of the company that I work for concerning time constraints versus hours allowed to be paid. Fortunately, I am a part-time employee! At local meeting with other full and retired members, I do not get much interest in doing backgrounds for the above mentioned reasons. The government bean counters must be made to understand two age old business trueisms:You only get what you pay for; and Fools are born every day!Both the government and private security companies attitudes need to change!!

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