The Justice Department has thrown its weight behind a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that U.S. Investigations Services (USIS) routinely failed to complete background investigations on applicants for sensitive federal jobs.
In a newly unsealed court filing, Justice said it is joining the False Claims Act suit by Blake Percival, former director of fieldwork services for USIS, and could pursue its own complaint by Jan. 22. In his suit, filed in federal district court in Alabama, Percival charges that the firm defrauded the government by forwarding cases to the Office of Personnel Management that had either not undergone a contractually required review or “had not been investigated at all.”
The practice, known as “dumping,” was aimed at maximizing revenue because USIS is paid about $1,900 for every investigative report turned in to OPM before the next-to-last day of the month and just 75 percent of that amount thereafter, Percival alleges. When Percival refused to order his employees to continue dumping, he was fired in June 2011, according to his suit.
In a news release, DOJ officials said they decided to intervene after investigating Percival’s allegations. “We will not tolerate shortcuts taken by companies that we have entrusted with vetting individuals to be given access to our country’s sensitive and secret information,” Stuart Delery, head of DOJ’s civil division, said in the release.
USIS is cooperating, spokeswoman Brandy Bergman responded in an email, adding that the alleged behavior of a “small number of employees” is “completely inconsistent” with the company’s values and traditions. “We have put in place new leadership, enhanced oversight procedures and improved protocols that have been shared with OPM,” Bergman said.
The company, which has worked for OPM since 1996, has also come under scrutiny because it did the background checks both for Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has leaked details of classified programs to the media, and Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist who gunned down a dozen people at the Washington Navy Yard last month before being killed by police. In the latter case, OPM has said that it believes that the check on Alexis was complete and fully complied with investigative standards.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a Thursday hearing on the broader background check process; only federal officials, however, are set to testify.