Wall Street Journal
September 21, 2013
Government Seeks to Replace Firm That Vetted Snowden, Navy Shooter
By Dion Nissenbaum
The federal government has launched a search for a new company to take over lucrative work being done by the firm that conducted background checks on former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and on Aaron Alexis, the former Navy reservist suspected of killing 12 people Monday at the Washington Navy Yard.
US Investigations Services LLC, a Falls Church, Va.-based firm, was one of three companies awarded a five-year contract in 2011 worth $2.45 billion to conduct security-clearance investigations for the federal Office of Personnel Management, the agency that oversees most of the government’s security background checks.
In the same year, USIS also won a five-year contract worth up to $288 million to provide support services for the Office of Personnel Management.
OPM is now looking for an alternative to take over part of the support-services work, according to the agency.
Several lawmakers argued that the two contracts created a conflict of interest for USIS, because the support-services contract required it to review background investigations it conducted under the other contract.
Critics, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.), argued that a company that conducts background checks shouldn’t be in a position to review its own work.
Former USIS employees said that, for years, the arrangement also allowed USIS corporate officials to obtain privileged government information about its competitors that wasn’t provided to the other companies.
The Office of Personnel Management began looking for potential alternatives to take on some of that support work before the Navy Yard shootings. OPM is trying to gauge the potential of other companies to step in, but hasn’t yet made a decision to pursue alternatives, according to the agency.
Ms. McCaskill praised the agency for seeking a company to replace USIS.
“It’s clear that there are significant problems in the execution and oversight of these contracts and that those deficiencies impact our national security,” she said. “OPM is right to look at alternatives—but I’ll continue looking at these contracts until I’m satisfied there’s accountability.”
USIS declined to comment on the government’s search for a new company.
The company began drawing critical scrutiny earlier this year as the firm that performed the last security background check on Mr. Snowden, who fled the country with top-secret documents about the country’s global surveillance system and began leaking them in June.
USIS is the focus of a criminal probe by the U.S. District Attorney in Washington, D.C., that is looking into allegations that the company improperly rushed cases through the system without proper review. USIS has said that it is fully cooperating with the investigation.
Last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that USIS had conducted a flawed review of Mr. Snowden in 2011 when his security clearance came up for review. The report found that USIS failed to interview enough character references for Mr. Snowden and presented an incomplete view of the Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. contractor.
USIS defended its work on Mr. Snowden’s security review and said that it was up to the federal government to ask for a deeper investigation if it had concerns at the time.
On Thursday, the company disclosed that it also conducted the 2007 background investigation of Mr. Alexis when he joined the military as a Navy reservist.
The Office of Personnel Management re-examined USIS’s work on Mr. Alexis after Monday’s shooting and concluded that the company had conducted a thorough investigation in that case.