USIS under fire over latest government contract
Lawmakers want Jeh Johnson to explain how USIS got the contract. | John Shinkle/POLITICO
The company that conducted background checks on both NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis is under fire over a new administrative support contract with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services awarded earlier this month worth nearly $200 million.
Critics of the award, which include a bipartisan group of lawmakers and another federal contractor that lost the bidding war, say that the company, USIS, should not be working on sensitive government projects, given the firm’s track record and ongoing litigation over its past business practices.
FCi Federal — the current holder of the contract that involves providing administrative support to the immigration agency — is waging an all-out campaign against rival USIS. The contractor has filed a protest of the contract and brought on a lobbying firm to press its case on Capitol Hill and beyond.
In a lengthy protest complaint obtained by POLITICO, FCi is asking the Government Accountability Office to recommend overturning the USIS contract, alleging that the company was improperly awarded the project.
The government, FCi alleges, failed to consider USIS’ role “in a massive scheme to defraud the government.” FCi also says that USIS’ bid for the government’s business failed to include realistic costs for the project.
FCi also says that the government improperly rated USIS. In awarding the contract, the federal government called USIS’ management capability “outstanding,” and its past performance as “low risk,” according to the protest.
The government “most certainly was aware of, or at least should have been aware of, these highly visible allegations against USIS” in making those ratings, FCi claims.
As evidence, FCi points to the Department of Justice joining a civil suit against the company, as well as ongoing litigation and investigations into the company’s practices. In January, the DOJ alleged in a filing that USIS took shortcuts in about 40 percent of background checks it handled.
“While we will not discuss the details of the protest, we believe the award to USIS needs to be closely reevaluated. This is the first time in our company’s 20-year history that we have challenged a contract award and we take our decision to file this protest very seriously. We are surprised that a company under federal investigation for defrauding the government can bid for and win government contracts,” said Sharon Virts, founder and CEO of FCi.
USIS noted that thecontract in question for the immigration service has nothing to do with background checks and that the company itself has undergone a profound shift in culture.
“Citizenship and Immigration Services awarded the FOSS contract to USIS’s Professional Services Division (PSD) after a rigorous two-year competition which followed long-standing government procurement procedures. PSD is not involved in the background investigation business and has not been linked in any way to the ongoing government investigation. As we have previously stated, USIS continues to cooperate fully with the government’s investigation and in no way condones the behavior that is alleged to have occurred in the past. Over the past two and one-half years, USIS has implemented extensive changes to business processes, internal controls, organizational structures, management, and personnel to insure our business operates in a manner that is 100% compliant with federal regulations and our contractual obligations,” said a spokesperson for USIS.
The USIS contract also has raised the heckles of a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill — who have pressed the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to explain why USIS got the contract.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) jointly signed a letter earlier this month, asking Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to explain how USIS came to receive the award. Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also raised the issue in a separate letter last week.
And Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz) is preparing another letter on Capitol Hill — raising border security concerns as a reason to void the contract.
“We believe the stakes are too high to allow USIS to be put in charge of one of our most important border security programs. The risk to our national security is just too great,” wrote Salmon to other congressional offices. “Please join me in sending a letter to Secretary Jeh Johnson, urging him to withdraw this” $190 million award.
FCi — the rival contractor — hired the law firm and lobbying shop Clark Hill last week to represent the company in the fight over the contract, according to lobbying disclosures filed last week. The law firm Polsinelli is also handling the legal work around FCi’s appeal.
Federal officials told POLITICO that no action has ever been taken against USIS to prevent it from bidding on additional business — and that federal contracting rules are very strict.
“USCIS examined each vendor’s proposed technical, managerial and operational approach, past performance and price to determine which offer provided the best value to the federal government,” an official with the agency said.
The agency ensured “that USIS did not have any active exclusions (i.e., were not suspended or debarred) and no exclusions were reported or identified. It was determined that it met the requirements for a responsible contractor,” the USCIS official said.