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OPM contracted USIS to review quality of its own work

Feb. 6, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
OPM Archuleta MWM 20140113
Katherine Archuleta, director of the Office of Personnel Management, announced Thursday that the agency is dropping USIS from some contract work. (Mike Morones/Staff) (Mike Morones)

The contractor being sued by the Justice Department for allegedly submitting at least 665,000 flawed background investigations to the government has been under contract by the Office of Personnel Management to oversee its own work and that of other contractors, Federal Times has learned.

Starting later this month, OPM said it will no longer pay USIS to perform quality assurance reviews of background investigations that have been submitted to OPM.USIS will continue doing initial quality assurance reviews of background investigations it does before they are submitted to OPM.

USIS is the largest of the three companies that OPM uses to conduct those investigations. OPM also contracts USIS to make sure background investigations — including those carried out by USIS — meet federal quality control standards for completeness and other factors.

That will end Feb. 24, when the job will be handled solely by OPM employees, said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta in a statement.

The announcement comes as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is planning a Feb. 11 hearing to examine the security clearance process in the wake of September’s Washington Navy Yard shootings that left eight people injured and 13 dead, including the shooter, former Navy Reservist Aaron Alexis, who was killed by police. USIS did the background check for Alexis’s clearance; OPM said the background check on Alexis complied with investigative standards.

Anong the witnesses will be Archuleta, Sterling Phillips, USIS’s current chief executive, and Patrick McFarland, the Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general, according to a list released Monday by the committee.

In January, the Justice Department filed a civil complaint against USIS alleging it delivered to OPM at least 665,000 background investigations that failed to undergo contractually required initial quality reviews.

That figure represents about 40 percent of the background checks done by the firm from March 2008 through September 2012, the Justice Department said. Last fall, Justice announced it was joining a whistleblower lawsuit against the company by a former USIS field manager.

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In announcing OPM’s plan to insource all reviews of completed background checks, Archuleta said, “This decision acts as an internal quality control preventing any contractor from performing the final quality review of its own work.” About 50 USIS workers and 300 OPM employees currently do those final reviews. An OPM official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that USIS has been doing final quality reviews on its own investigations, as well as those of the other two background investigation contractors, KeyPoint and CACI.

OPM will handle the added workload through overtime and by pulling in staff from elsewhere in the agency. Archuleta’s decision will not affect USIS’s work on other parts of the support contract; like KeyPoint and CACI, the company will continue to do initial quality reviews on its investigations before sending them to OPM for the final review, according to an agency representative speaking on condition of anonymity.

In her statement, Archuleta, who has led the agency since November, did not address why OPM has been allowing the company to do quality reviews of its own work.

The Justice Department lawsuit filed last month accuses USIS of a practice known within the firm as “dumping.” It was geared to boost revenue and help USIS win performance bonuses that totaled almost $12 million from fiscal 2008 through 2010, the Justice lawsuit states. Had OPM known what was going on, it would not have deemed USIS’s performance acceptable, the complaint states. The suit seeks damages plus at least $5,500 for each fraudulent claim.

A spokeswoman for the Falls Church, Va.-based USIS, previously known as U.S. Investigations Services, declined comment last week on Archuleta’s decision to bring the final reviews fully in-house.

The alleged misconduct at USIS relates to a small group of people and runs contrary to the company’s “values and commitment to exceptional service,” a USIS spokesman said last month in response to the Justice Department complaint. Since learning of the alleged misconduct almost two years ago, USIS has installed a new management team and says it has beefed up oversight. The company has also fully cooperated with the government’s probe and “remains focused on delivering the highest quality service under our OPM contract,” the spokesman said.

USIS was founded in 1996 by former OPM employees as part of a Clinton administration privatization push. At a Senate hearing last fall, Archuleta’s predecessor, Elaine Kaplan, said the agency continues to have “some level” of confidence in the firm in light of the management changes.

OPM has not suspended or debarred the company from any contracts.

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