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Shortcuts Seen at Background Check Firms

Posted on Sep 28, 2013
Andrea Rusky (CC BY 2.0)

Members of Congress are asking whether the outsourcing of security checks of the kind that cleared NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden and accused Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis are leading private contractors to cut corners and falsify reports.

The New York Times reports on a practice known as “flushing,” in which managers at for-profit investigation companies order the “quick final approval of background investigations without reviewing them for quality” in order to meet their revenue goals. The paper highlighted a branch of a company called USIS based in Church Falls, Va., that has performed 700,000 yearly security checks for the government and is its largest outside investigator of applicant backgrounds.

A person familiar with the company said two top executives—a division president and the chief financial officer—were fired after being found responsible for ordering the flushing.

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Pentagon and military contractors have taken the need to vet their employees seriously. Investigations for a top-secret clearance during the Bush administration took as many as 400 days. To speed up investigations, the federal personnel office hired private companies like USIS to do the majority of the work, which significantly eased the backlog that had built up.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The New York Times:

In interviews this week, former and current USIS employees detailed how the company had an incentive to rush work because it is paid only after a file is marked “FF,” for fieldwork finished, and sent to the government. In the waning days of a month, investigations were closed to meet financial quotas, without a required review by the quality control department, two former senior managers said.

The details of how its contract was structured provide new insight into the workings of USIS, a company that is now the focus of two federal inquiries, including a grand jury investigation in Washington, according to Congressional testimony and people with knowledge of the proceedings.

The federal Office of Personnel Management confirmed that it pays USIS on a piecework basis. “The vendor is paid upon the delivery of a completed case,” the agency said in a statement. People familiar with the contract said it was intended to give the company an incentive to be efficient.

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