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Lawmakers: USIS used OPM relationship to deflect scrutiny

Feb. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Witnesses are sworn in at a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on fixing the security clearance process after the Washington Navy Yard shootings.From left to right, they are: Sterling Phillips, CEO of USIS; Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta; Stephen Lewis, a senior Defense Department security official; Patrick McFarland, OPM's inspector general; Susan Ordakowski, a KeyPoint vice president; and Michael Rhodes, an executive vice president at CACI. (Mike Morones/Staff)
Witnesses are sworn in at a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on fixing the security clearance process after the Washington Navy Yard shootings.From left to right, they are: Sterling Phillips, CEO of USIS; Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta; Stephen Lewis, a senior Defense Department security official; Patrick McFarland, OPM's inspector general; Susan Ordakowski, a KeyPoint vice president; and Michael Rhodes, an executive vice president at CACI. (Mike Morones/Staff) (Photographer: Mike Morones)

USIS, the federal contractor under fire for allegedly submitting hundreds of thousands of flawed background investigations to the government, used its unusual relationship with the Office of Personnel Management to cover its tracks, congressional Democrats charged Tuesday.

USIS was able to “review their own work,” Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. As a result, the Virginia-based firm “basically sandbagged” OPM’s efforts to uncover the alleged misconduct, Lynch said.

The firm is currently OPM’s largest provider of background investigations that agencies use in deciding whether to give someone a security clearance. But under a separate support services contract, the company has also had a back-up role in helping OPM do the final quality reviews on whether the checks —including those carried out by USIS’s own field employees — meet required standards.

“[T]hey circumvented OPM’s oversight of their performance of their quality review,” Merton Miller, the agency’s associate director of federal investigative services, told oversight committee staff in an interview last month, according to a report released Tuesday by the panel’s Democrats. “I’m not splitting hairs, but they knew how we were auditing.”

Starting Feb. 24, USIS will no longer play any part in doing the final quality reviews, either of its own work or that of the other two contractors — KeyPoint and CACI — that handle background investigations, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta announced last week. Tuesday’s hearing left unclear, however, OPM’s rationale for assigning USIS that role to begin with.

“Why would we ever do that?,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., asked Archuleta, who did not answer directly.

“I don’t disagree with you and I took action to change that,” Archuleta said. Archuleta has headed OPM since November, well after the alleged fraud took place.

In a civil complaint filed last month in connection with a whistleblower’s lawsuit, the Justice Department accused USIS of delivering at least 665,000 background investigations from March 2008 through September 2012 that failed to undergo contractually required initial quality reviews. During that time, the company received millions of dollars in bonus payments, said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat.

Sterling Phillips, USIS’s chief executive since January 2013, reiterated the company’s earlier statements that the alleged wrongdoing related to a small group of people who were not the norm. USIS has since installed a new management team, Phillips said, and from the outset has cooperated with the government’s investigation “and will continue to do so.”

USIS’s work has also come under scrutiny because it did the background check for Aaron Alexis, the former Navy Reservist who gunned down a dozen people at the Washington Navy Yard last September before being killed by police.

At the hearing, OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland said that the investigation that helped Alexis get a secret clearance in 2007 complied with agency procedures then in force.

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