Inspector general notes rate as "abnormal."
- By R. Jeffrey Smith<p> R. Jeffrey Smith is the managing editor for national security at the Center for Public Integrity, and Mattie Quinn is a McCormick reporting fellow there. The Center is a nonprofit, independent investigative news outlet. More of its work can be found at www.publicintegrity.org. </p>
Auditors for the office that oversees the approval of all federal security clearances have apparently located the most productive federal contractor in America.
An unnamed employee at U.S. Investigative Services (USIS) — the same private company that processed Edward Snowden’s clearance to work for the NSA — managed to review a startling 15,152 clearance cases in a single month during fiscal 2013, according to an Office of Personnel Management inspector general’s report.
USIS is a private firm spun off from the government that does the arduous work of investigating the loyalty and integrity of applicants for sensitive federal jobs. Qualified officials are supposed to review information drawn from security investigations before granting some security clearance. OPM pays USIS to verify that the right data was compiled into a single package for final review. Figuring a 40-hour work week, the employee cited in the IG report reviewed 1.5 cases a minute — a pace the OPM’s watchdog called “abnormal.”
It is not clear if the person still works at USIS, since the company declined to say. OPM said on June 16 that the worker no longer works on the agency’s contract.
The two entities — still bound together by the purchase of “support services” and investigative fieldwork — are essentially in duck-and-cover mode in the wake of a Jan. 22 Justice Department filing that accused USIS of deliberately defrauding the government from March 2008 through at least September 2012, by pretending it conducted quality data reviews that never occurred. The Justice Department said USIS did this as matter of official policy, motivated by greed.
In its January response, USIS said the allegations “relate to a small group of individuals over a specific time period” and that it has new leadership and better oversees its workers. Allegations against the firm attracted particular notice because one of those whose application it processed was Snowden.
The report’s revelation of rote reviews is also outside the timeframe delineated in government prosecutors’ January court filing. And it describes how OPM and its contractors use software that flushes security-clearance applications past internal quality reviews after 30 days — whether complete or not — a practice OPM calls “auto-release.”
Auto-release is “a necessary fail-safe to eliminate workflow backlogs and move work along in deference to timeliness mandates,” according to OPM. That’s a reference to Congress’s requirement that the agency process 90 percent of clearance cases within 60 days — including 40 days for a background investigation and 20 days for review.
The deadline was set to benefit applicants. Instead, it has caused OPM and its contractors, which often cannot conduct complex investigations that quickly, to cut corners.
The report noted that contractors are “not conducting a pre-review of all investigative items as required.” It also said contract reviewers and support personnel might not have adequate training. “It is clear that USIS lacks internal controls over the retention of training documentation, as they could not provide the required…documentation for almost half of the personnel we reviewed,” it stated.
USIS spokesman Patrick Scanlan said the company had no comment on the report’s findings. OPM spokeswoman Lindsey S. O’Keefe declined to say how many clearances USIS is presently processing and where those applicants want to work in the federal government.
OPM’s director, Katherine Archuleta, said in a prepared statement that contractors do not conduct quality reviews anymore — the work has been federalized (again) — and that officials at OPM “appreciate the OIG’s diligence on this matter.” One of her aides also claimed, without allowing her name to be used, that audits and inspections of contractors have been increased.
But OPM told the inspector general that it is only “exploring” making changes in the “auto-release” software. It said its officials would “recommend” to USIS that “it consider reevaluating its internal controls” to better oversee reviewers’ work and training.
USIS is continuing to work under two OPM contracts signed in 2011 and is "eligible for new contracts," OPM spokeswoman Jennifer Dorsey said.
Germany, Brazil ask the U.N. for help re: spies; The last few minutes of Jofi Joseph’s fame; Troops in Afg cost $2.1 million a piece; How do you open up a halal sex shop?; The ‘girly hats’ story wasn’t exactly true, Marines say; and a bit more.Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |
John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.| The Complex |