OPM brings background investigation reviews in-house

Thursday - 2/6/2014, 3:33pm EST

The Office of Personnel Management has decided that final quality reviews for background investigations will be conducted by government employees — not contractors.

A statement from OPM Director Katherine Archuleta provided to Federal News Radio said starting Feb. 24 the final quality-review process for background checks will be "fully federalized," and that "only federal employees will be conducting the final quality review before the investigative product is sent to the agency for review and adjudication."

The news comes amid an employee's whistleblower lawsuit, also joined by the Justice Department, alleging that the government's largest background-check contractor, USIS, had improperly signed off on hundreds of thousands of background investigations that had never been properly vetted — a practice known as "flushing" or "dumping" records.

The company first came under fire last year, when it was revealed it performed background investigations of both National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis. The Justice Department suit, however, is not related to the investigations of either Snowden or Alexis.

Background investigations are overseen by OPM's Federal Investigative Services division, although a great deal of work is also conducted by contractors. Under a five-year contract to provide support services, signed in 2011, USIS played a role in reviewing background investigations and submitting completed case files to OPM for final approval.

Work will be absorbed by OPM

About 50 USIS contractor employees currently work on the final round of quality reviews. When they are phased out later this month, their work will be performed by about 300 OPM employees who will absorb the additional work through overtime and additional staffing power, according to the agency. OPM does not expect the move to affect processing times.

"Since arriving at OPM three months ago, I have taken steps to assess the efficacy of the processes we use to deliver investigative products and services," Archuleta said in the statement. "In our ongoing assessment and review, it is clear that the overriding performance criteria must be quality. This decision acts as an internal quality control preventing any contractor from performing the final quality review of its own work."

USIS' existing contracts also remain unaffected by the move, according to OPM. The quality-review process is just one part of the support-services contract that the company holds with OPM. The contract guarantees a minimum of $1 million in revenues annually, but the final value of the contract is dependent on how much work is actually performed by the company.

A USIS spokeswoman declined comment on OPM's announcement.

OPM issued a request for information last September seeking industry proposals for the quality-review process, but has not made a final decision about whether it will issue a solicitation.

Meanwhile, as of late last month, OPM remained undecided about whether to would suspend or debar USIS from future federal work.

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