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Trade group defends contractors' role in clearance investigations

Feb. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Stan Z. Soloway, president and CEO, Professional Services Council, argues that clearance reform should focus on the process, not contractors.
Stan Z. Soloway, president and CEO, Professional Services Council, argues that clearance reform should focus on the process, not contractors. (Gannett Government Media Corp)

Government investigators looking into the security clearance vetting system should focus on procedures and processes, not whether federal agencies ought to do all of the work in-house, the head of a service contractor trade group said Monday.

“It is disingenuous to focus solely on contractor investigation performance issues, when numerous cases exist in which the Office of Personnel Management’s in-house investigators failed to follow proper procedures,” Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, said in a news release. While neither OPM nor private firms should take shortcuts, Soloway said, “to solely vilify contractors fails to address the totality of the issues.”

He called for broader changes to the clearance system that would ensure across-the-board accountability and recognize that using contractors to conduct background investigations is — with proper oversight — an effective approach in light of the workload’s irregular pace.

Soloway’s statement came on the eve on what could be a contentious congressional hearing Tuesday focused on how Aaron Alexis, a former Navy Reservist who gunned down a dozen people at the Washington Navy Yard last September, managed to get and keep a clearance despite evidence that he was mentally ill. Alexis, who was working for a contractor at the time of the massacre, was killed by police.

The background investigation for his clearance was handled by USIS, a Virginia-based firm that is the largest private provider of such checks to the government. OPM has said that it believes USIS’s investigation of Alexis was complete and met investigative standards.

Sterling Phillips, USIS’s current chief executive, is among a half-dozen witnesses scheduled to testify at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Others include OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland, and top executives with CACI and KeyPoint, the two other contractors that do clearance-related background investigations for OPM.

USIS and CACI are members of the Professional Services Council; KeyPoint is not.

Last month, the Justice Department sued USIS for allegedly failing to carry out contractually required quality control reviews for at least 665,000 investigations between 2008 and 2012; last week, Archuleta said the government will no longer let USIS also do final quality reviews of investigations that it and other contractors have carried out. Instead, OPM will bring the work back in-house starting Feb. 24.

According to USIS, the Justice Department allegations involve a small number of people no longer with the firm. The company has also replaced its top management team.

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