As a former employee of USIS, the contractor mentioned in the June 20 article “Contractor investigated for background check failures,” I would like to make several comments.
First, USIS has no authority for issuing security clearances. They are responsible for gathering the information to complete an initial investigation or reinvestigation of an individual. The Federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) oversees the background information provided by USIS. Once a case is vetted and/or adjudicated by OPM, it is sent back to the requesting agency. The requesting agency then issues an individual a security clearance.
I am not claiming the charges of investigators making up information are not true. It would not surprise me if they are true. The caseloads investigators carry are heavy, the deadlines too short to do a proper job and the requirements for source coverage constitute overkill in many cases. When you get a case kicked back because you failed to obtain enough sources to cover a six month apartment rental from three years ago, I’m sure there is great temptation to make something up that will satisfy.
Several years ago, a multimillion dollar computer project at the Department of Defense (DOD) was developed to allow them to conduct background investigations on military personnel. That system never reached its intended potential and DOD backlogged hundreds of thousands of investigations. OPM agreed to take on the work. DOD loaded all the casework into trucks and literally dumped the work on USIS in the middle of a war. This created an enormous backlog of casework and even more pressure to turn out cases faster and faster.
What was frustrating to some of us was the insistence by OPM that the cases all meet specific coverage, even though in many cases, it was impossible to find the number of sources needed (there is an entire handbook, a foot thick, with these guidelines). Military members were being transferred from base to base and being deployed. Catching up with them just to do their personal interviews was a challenge.
It seemed OPM was more interested in making square pegs fit into round holes than having us alert them to people who might pose a security risk. To my mind, anyone who was discovered having lied on their security application paperwork should have been immediately fired or not hired at all. Unfortunately, this did not always happen.
Federal agencies are reluctant to remove employees when their background checks uncover negative information because the process is so arduous. Once someone has completed their first year of probation as a federal employee, it is nearly impossible to have them removed. They just allow them to transfer elsewhere within the government, called “pass the trash” within government circles.
The Fort Hood shooter is currently the most well-known “pass the trash” case. I would expect to see the IRS employees involved in the targeting of Tea Party groups to be allowed to quietly transfer to another government agency or to another office within the IRS.
I sincerely hope those investigators and other employees of USIS who have falsified information are prosecuted. I also hope this will cause OPM and Congress to take the time to evaluate the entire background investigation process.