Government Will No Longer Allow Outside Contractors to Review Federal Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 2/11/2014

Last month, the Federal Government filed suit against USIS, one of their largest contractors for security clearance background checks, for allegedly delivering 665,000 fake, fraudulent, or incomplete background check reports. USIS had been the firm responsible for vetting countless government employees, including Edward Snowden, who leaked thousands of sensitive government documents, and Aaron Alexis, who killed a dozen people in a Navy Yard shooting last fall. By trusting USIS to run background checks and provide reports that cleared employees to operate within the government, the Office of Personnel Management worries that it may have unwittingly created a major set of threats to national security.

That particular worry has inspired the Office of Personnel Management and the Federal Government as a whole to make a major change regarding employee background checks and government contractors. Going forward, the Office of Personnel Management will continue to use contractor companies to run background checks on employees and security clearance candidates. However, it will no longer trust the contractors with the step of reviewing their own background checks.

In the past, some contractor workers have been permitted to take on parts of the review process. That problem was what made it possible for USIS to submit more than half a million faulty background checks, over the course of several years, without anyone at the Office of Personnel Management noticing. The contractor firm was basically using a computer program to automatically approve mass numbers of background check reports without ever actually reviewing them. This automated process, known as “dumping,” will likely be the core topic of discussion once the government's fraud lawsuit against USIS reaches the court. It's also something that the Office of Personnel Management is hoping to avoid ever having to deal with again by mandating a more thorough review process.

Ostensibly, the system in the future will go something like this: the Office of Personnel Management will send information about an employee or prospective employee to a contractor, who will then perform a background check. A report of that background check will then be returned to the Office of Personnel Management, where it will be fully reviewed and either approved or disapproved in-house.

The Office of Personnel Management's Federal Investigative Services division, which has long overseen Federal background checks, but which also outsources much of the work to contractors like USIS, may or may not have the manpower to comfortably manage the new workload that these background check reviews will represent. However, Katherine Archuleta, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, has stated that the Federal Investigative Services department will weather the changes by having employees work overtime and by bringing in workers from other parts of the organization to help with the load.

In other words, it will likely be a tumultuous couple of months at the Office of Personnel Management when the background check review policy officially changes on February 24. Still, Archuleta believes the extra work will be worth it to make sure that federal security clearance background checks have a consistent and dependable quality control filter.


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