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Issa Wants to Issue List of 450 Jurisdictions That Aren't Cooperating in Clearance Checks

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
By Louis C. LaBrecque

Feb. 11 — About 450 jurisdictions aren't cooperating with the Office of Personnel Management when it asks for information about federal security clearances, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, said during a Feb. 11 hearing, citing a committee report.

The report in turn cited internal OPM documents. Issa said the committee would like to make the list of noncooperating jurisdictions public. He asked OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, who testified at the hearing, whether the agency would let the panel do so.

Archuleta said the OPM would work with the committee to release the list, but that the jurisdictions are a small subset of the roughly 18,000 jurisdictions the OPM turns to for information relevant to security clearances.

One of the cities on the list—the District of Columbia—recently agreed to begin cooperating with the OPM, Archuleta said, adding that the OPM is seeking to persuade additional jurisdictions to open their files. Although some cities have simply refused to cooperate, smaller jurisdictions have told the OPM that they don't have the resources to find and provide the kinds of records the OPM is seeking, she added.

OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland told the panel that liability concerns may be one reason local police departments aren't cooperating with the agency on security clearance investigations, particularly if the individual in question was arrested but not charged with a crime.

Issa said in November that he had subpoenaed Archuleta to obtain documents the committee is seeking in its investigation into the federal security clearance process (227 DLR A-10, 11/22/13). The current hearing, Issa said, is intended to focus on what the federal government can do to improve its security clearance processes for federal employees and contractors.

Navy Yard Killings Cited
There were frequent references during the hearing to Aaron Alexis, a federal contractor who was first granted a security clearance in 2007. Alexis opened fire at the Navy Yard in Washington on Sept. 16, 2013, killing 12 people, all of them either federal civilian employees or federal contractors.

According to the committee report issued by Issa, both a database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a local law check uncovered Alexis's 2004 arrest for “malicious mischief” in King County, Wash.

“Had the investigator taken additional steps to obtain the arrest record, it likely would have been provided to the investigator. As the investigator only had access to the information in the Washington Statewide Database, only minimal information was included in Alexis' investigative file,” the report said, referring to the federal background investigation of Alexis before he was granted a security clearance.

“In FY 2012, OPM prepared over 2.3 million investigative products for federal agencies. Approximately 30 percent of this work was conducted by OPM employees, with the other 70 percent being outsourced to three companies who hold contracts with OPM,” the majority report said.

“The Federal Investigative Services (FIS) branch of OPM, responsible for conducting these background investigations, has defined processes in place that are largely automated, which allows for faster investigations at the expense of thoroughness. Key information sometimes does not reach the agency adjudicators, which means that individuals—such as Aaron Alexis—are occasionally granted clearances that, had the adjudicator been aware of all the pertinent information, should have received more scrutiny and could have been denied,” the report said.

Minority Report Focuses on Contractor
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee's ranking member, said during the hearing that committee Democrats had issued a separate report focusing on the role of a key OPM contractor in mishandling federal security investigations.

According to the report unveiled by Cummings, the committee's majority report “was incomplete because it did not present the full findings of the Committee's investigation into the role of U.S. Investigations Services, Inc. (USIS)—the company that conducted Alexis' background investigation and that conducts more background investigations than any other federal contractor.”

“Four years before Alexis got his clearance, he was arrested in Seattle for shooting out the tires of someone's car. USIS did not obtain a copy of that 2004 arrest report, and OPM did not require one because the city of Seattle refused to cooperate with similar requests in the past,” Cummings said during the hearing.

“Instead, USIS obtained a summary that omitted references to the weapon and said only that Alexis was charged with malicious mischief. If USIS and the government had obtained a copy of that arrest report, perhaps Alexis's clearance would have been denied,” Cummings said.

Cummings added that, under its contract, USIS also was responsible for conducting a “quality review” of its background investigation of Alexis. It is “inexplicable” that USIS was given the responsibility for conducting quality reviews of its own investigations, Cummings said.

Justice Department Has Joined Lawsuit
After a long-time USIS employee filed a False Claims Act lawsuit against the company, the Justice Department joined the suit last month and is “seeking more than $1 billion from USIS, claiming that the company charged taxpayers for work it never performed on 665,000 background investigations from 2008 to 2012,” Cummings said.

According to the report issued by Cummings, 24 USIS executives have resigned, retired or been terminated in recent years, including the company's former chief executive officer and its chief financial officer. “In addition, Committee staff learned that the President of its Investigations Services Division also resigned suddenly just last week,” the report said.

Sterling Phillips, the chief executive officer of USIS since January 2013, told the panel that the company has dealt with its problems, which he said were caused by “individuals who fail to meet our high standards.”

“In USIS, those individuals are an aberration, not the norm,” Phillips said.

Representatives of two other OPM background investigation contractors—CACI International and KeyPoint Government Solutions—also testified during the hearing regarding their role in assisting the OPM with background checks. Neither of the two companies has been linked to the Alexis case.

Quality Reviews to Be `Fully Federalized.'
Archuleta announced last week that the quality review process for federal background investigations conducted by the OPM will “be fully federalized” effective Feb. 24 (26 DLR A-15, 2/7/14).

As of that date, Archuleta said in a Feb. 6 statement from the OPM, “only federal employees will be conducting the final quality review before the investigative product is sent to the agency for review and adjudication.”

The change is needed, she said, to prevent “any contractor from performing the final quality review of its own work.”

By Louis C. LaBrecque

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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