OPM defends 2007 background check of Navy Yard shooter

Friday - 9/20/2013, 1:45pm EDT

The same company that performed National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden's background investigation also performed a check of Aaron Alexis, the IT contractor who shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard Monday.

USIS, which completes background checks under a contract with the Office of Personnel Management, confirmed Thursday it performed Alexis' background investigation in 2007 but couldn't comment further because of contractual obligations barring the company from keeping case information.

As of June, the company was under criminal investigation by the OPM inspector general for failing to conduct adequate investigations.

In a statement, however, OPM's associate director for Federal Investigative Services, Mert Miller, defended the work done on Alexis' background investigation and said the Defense Department signed off on the results of the background check.

"OPM has reviewed the 2007 background investigation file for Aaron Alexis, and the agency believes that the file was complete and in compliance with all investigative standards," Miller said in the statement .

(Click here to read OPM's full statement)

Investigators checked Alexis' credit history and criminal history and performed "required fieldwork" as part of the investigation, Miller said.

OPM then turned over its investigation to DoD for final approval.

"If the officials have any concerns with the investigation once it is received, or would like additional information beyond that required by the standards, they have the opportunity to request that OPM perform further work before the agency makes its final decision," Miller said in the statement. "OPM's involvement with matters related to Aaron Alexis' security clearance ended when we submitted the case to the Department of Defense (DoD) for adjudication in December 2007. DoD did not ask OPM for any additional investigative actions after it received the completed background investigation."

OPM — and its contractors — perform 90 percent of the federal government's background investigations, the first step in obtaining security clearances. About 4.9 million government employees and contractors currently hold security clearances.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs a Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight, said the news represents a "pattern of failure" on the part of USIS.

"We clearly need a top-to-bottom overhaul of how we vet those who have access to our country's secrets and to our secure facilities," she said in a statement. "I plan to pursue such an overhaul, and won't rest until it's achieved,"

Earlier this week, McCaskill, and a handful of other senators, called for OPM IG Patrick McFarland to investigate whether proper review procedures were followed for Alexis' background check.

McFarland, who testified before McCaskill's subcommittee in June, has raised concerns about "alarmingly insufficient" oversight of OPM's background investigations.

OPM charges agencies to perform background checks of employees. The fees then funneled into a $2 billion revolving fund. However, the IG is unable to use any of that funding to finance its audits. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted July 31 to approve a measure that would provide new funding for the IG to investigate misconduct. It's currently awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

In the meantime, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the Pentagon would review security measures at DoD installations worldwide — including security clearances and background investigations.

"Obviously something went wrong," Hagel said a Pentagon press briefing this week. "We will review everything, and hopefully we will figure out how to do this better ...We will find those gaps, and we will fix those gaps."

The White House has also directed the Office of Management and Budget to examine security standards at agencies across government.

Mert Miller, OPM associate director for Federal Investigative Services
(complete statement):

"The security clearance process begins when an agency identifies a person who will require eligibility for access to classified information. The scope of the investigation will vary, depending on the level of access required. As the risk to national security increases, so does the level of investigation. The existing investigative standard for a Secret clearance is a National Agency Check with Law and Credit (NACLC). The NACLC consists of a questionnaire completed by the person being investigated and checks of federal records, credit history records, and criminal history records. When OPM undertook the background investigation for Aaron Alexis in 2007, with support from a Government contractor, USIS, the appropriate federal records were obtained, and the required fieldwork was performed. OPM has reviewed the 2007 background investigation file for Aaron Alexis, and the agency believes that the file was complete and in compliance with all investigative standards.

"Background investigations are conducted by OPM at the request of an agency and done in accordance with Executive Order 12968 and applicable investigative standards as a part of the overall security clearance process. Once the investigation is complete, it is submitted to the adjudicating agency for review. Adjudication officials at the relevant agency evaluate the investigation and make the decision to grant or deny the security clearance. If the officials have any concerns with the investigation once it is received, or would like additional information beyond that required by the standards, they have the opportunity to request that OPM perform further work before the agency makes its final decision.

"OPM's involvement with matters related to Aaron Alexis' security clearance ended when we submitted the case to the Department of Defense (DoD) for adjudication in December 2007. DoD did not ask OPM for any additional investigative actions after it received the completed background investigation."

RELATED STORIES:

Senators seek probe into how Navy shooter got clearance

Obama, DoD order reviews of security procedures

Four years after Ft. Hood, Pentagon still studying base security

Contractor conducting background checks under investigation prior to NSA leak