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Search Tags: background investigations
A new audit from the OPM Inspector General's office reveals shortcomings in the steps taken by Office of Personnel Management and its contractors to make sure background investigations undergo quality reviews. The audit pointed to a lack of oversight on OPM's part in making sure contractors actually review cases and said some of the companies that employ case reviewers failed to keep track of records showing the contractors had undergone proper training.
Matthew Baum, a former investigator in OPM's now-defunct Office of Federal Investigations, questions whether politics and privatization went too far by outsourcing background investigations.
Ten years ago, the federal government was faced with a crisis in managing security clearances: costly delays and backlogs in performing background investigations. The Office of Personnel Management stepped in and tremendous progress clearing the backlog and meeting strict new timelines mandated by Congress. But some critics now worry too much focus has been put on speed in the process — and not enough attention has been given to quality. In our special report, Questioning Clearances, Federal News Radio examines why efforts to measure the quality of background investigations have stalled.
Since 2008, the Office of Personnel Management has been on a crusade to root out falsification in background investigations using the courts. Nearly two dozen background investigators for either OPM or one of its contractors have been criminally prosecuted for misconduct ranging from outright falsifying reports, known as "ghostwriting," to performing sloppy checks that failed to adhere to OPM's standards.
In the coming months, the federal government will release a detailed plan for implementing more than a dozen recommendations to improve the security clearance process, said Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Beth Cobert. The government's recommendations, which were included in an interagency report published by OMB last month, call for "continuous evaluation" of clearance holders and strengthened oversight of the background-investigation process.
The Preventing Conflicts of Interest with Contractors Act would block the Office of Personnel Management from contracting with companies to perform final quality reviews if those same companies are also responsible for conducting initial investigations. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta announced in early February that, going forward, only federal employees would conduct final quality reviews. The new bill writes Archuleta's decision into law. Otherwise it could be reversed by a future OPM director.
President Barack Obama signed the OPM IG Act into law this week. The law provides the agency's top watchdog with an additional source of funding to conduct audits and investigations of the security-clearance process.
The Office of Personnel Management has decided that final quality reviews for background investigations will be conducted by government employees -- not contractors. A Feb. 6 statement from OPM Director Katherine Archuleta provided to Federal News Radio said starting Feb. 24 the 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 Justice Department has accused the company that performed background investigations of both National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis of defrauding the government, making false statements and breach of contract. DoJ's civil complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Alabama alleges the company, which is the government's largest contractor for background-investigation services, submitted at least 665,000 background investigations to the Office of Personnel Management that hadn't been properly reviewed.
The House gave a boost to the Office of Personnel Management inspector general's office Tuesday, voting to provide the agency's auditors with access to new funding to conduct investigations. In a unanimous vote, the House approved the bipartisan OPM IG Act, introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and co-sponsored by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass). The Senate approved a nearly identical measure, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), in October.