United States Senators Infuriated by Sub-Par Background Check of Navy Yard Shooter

By Michael Klazema on 11/5/2013

The Office of Personnel Management, the government branch responsible for doing background checks of military personnel, is coming under fire from numerous senators this month for failing to discover a history of violence in the background of Aaron Alexis, the man who killed 12 people and hurt three others in a Washington D.C. Navy Yard shooting at the beginning of September.

According to reports, the Office of Personnel Management gave Alexis security clearance when he joined the Navy in 2007, despite the fact that he was arrested in Seattle, Washington in 2004 for allegedly shooting out the tires of a neighbor’s car with a handgun. In that particular case, Alexis was not convicted of a crime, meaning that, under EEOC guidelines—which put employee screening focus on a history of convictions rather than a history of arrests—most employers would not be permitted to reject his application on the basis of the shooting alone.

However, according to the Washington Post, Sentators such as Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Susan Collins (Maine), and Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire) aren’t so sure that Alexis deserved a free pass just because he hadn’t been convicted. McCaskill in particular has been vocal in her disapproval of the Office of Personnel Management and its failure to notice Alexis’s volatile nature and mental instability before he hurt anyone. Supposedly, Alexis blamed the 2004 tire-shooting incident on a rage blackout, while the FBI has stated that he committed the Navy Yard massacre under a delusion that he was being controlled by ultra low-frequency electromagnetic waves.

The Senators are also making a move to change the way that Office of Personnel Management security clearances are granted. The four banded together during the final week of October to unveil a bill that, if passed, would demand a deeper public records search for security clearance employees. They aren’t the only ones upset about government and military background checks. President Obama has also ordered his administration to review security clearance procedures.

The Washington Post article also indicated that the Office of Personnel Management and USIS, the government contractor that administered the majority of the Alexis background check, never found information regarding to Alexis’s 2004 arrest because arrest records from the Seattle Police Department were not checked. USIS is itself under investigation for improper screening methods, but has not been blamed for the Seattle oversight. Instead, the Post quoted Elaine Kaplan, the current acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, saying that the Seattle records were ignored because the Office of Personnel Management and connected background check contractors have not been able to obtain files from the department in the past.

In contrast, the Post also quoted a detective from the Seattle Police Department, who said that any proper background check process would have uncovered the Alexis arrest report. The document, the officer said, has been public for years.

Whether any proper background check could have unveiled Aaron Alexis’s arrest record is difficult to judge at this point, now that the Seattle arrest report is available online for all to see. However, since the EEOC holds that the presence of arrest record cannot alone bar to anyone from employment, it is also difficult to argue that, if Alexis’s violent history had been discovered through an arrest report, he would have been prohibited from receiving security clearance. Many employee screening vendors, including, with criminal searches at the county, state, and federal level, do not use arrest records at all in background check reports due to their discriminatory nature. If an arrest does not result in conviction, there is no evidence that the employee being checked was at all guilty of the offense for which they were arrested—a truth that remains even for individuals such as Aaron Alexis.


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