Federal Government Cuts Ties Background Check Contractor

By Michael Klazema on 9/15/2014

Schools, hospitals, and businesses throughout the country may use the FBI nationwide criminal database to run background checks, but the federal government also runs background checks of its own. Indeed, the government has its own "HR department" of sorts, the Office of Personnel Management, which determines which employees and officials will and will not be given security clearances for government work.

In recent years, the Office of Personnel Management has subcontracted its background checks to a firm called USIS, or United States Investigative Services. The company is responsible for screening everyone from NSA workers to military members, finding out whether or not those individuals have criminal records and delivering reports to the Office of Personnel Management. The OPM then uses the reports provided by USIS to decide who will receive security clearance status.

At least that's how it used to be. According to a Reuters report published on September 10, the Office of Personnel Management has finally decided to cut USIS lose. The OPM's decision not to renew its contract with USIS, which expires on September 30, comes in the wake of a tumultuous and disastrous year for USIS.

First, USIS was responsible for running the security clearance background checks on both Aaron Alexis, last fall's Washington Navy Yard gunman, and Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked information on PRISM and other National Security Agency spying programs to the public. USIS was not blamed for what happened in either case, though some did criticize the firm for not picking up on Alexis's history of violence and military disobedience.

Even if USIS escaped blame for the Alexis and Snowden debacles, the firm couldn't dodge the other bullet that came its way earlier this year. A federal probe discovered that certain employees at USIS were dumping background check reports or approving them in bulk without properly reviewing them to check the validity of the information.

Because of this, USIS is facing a massive lawsuit from the federal government. The suit claims that USIS fraudulently marked 665,000 background checks as complete without reviewing them, in turn jeopardizing national security by not giving the Office of Personnel Management all the information necessary to make educated security clearance decisions.

More recently, USIS suffered a major computer system breach that likely exposed the personal information of the company's employees. Both the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Personnel Management also halted investigative work with the company at that time. Both entities were concerned that the computer breach could also compromise the information of federal employees and contractors under background check investigation.

After all of these blunders, many were surprised that the Office of Personnel Management continued to work with USIS for the purpose of security clearance background checks. Now, though, it looks as if the OPM was merely waiting for their contract with USIS to expire. Now that the end of that contract period is approaching, USIS has been informed that its services will no longer be needed.

It remains to be seen what the government will be doing to handle USIS's background check workload in the near future. The aforementioned Reuters report stated that USIS has recently been conducting about 21,000 background checks a month on federal employees and contractors. That's roughly 40 percent of all federal employment background checks.


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