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Will Court Case Give New Impetus for Background Check Overhaul? (Updated)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:15 p.m. | A troubling court filing this week will increase the pressure to overhaul the process for federal background checks.

The government alleges that United States Investigations Services, the private contractor that vetted both Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, intentionally cut corners on a contract to conduct background checks for the Office of Personnel Management.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Thomas R. Carper responded in a statement to CQ Roll Call.

The Delaware Democrat said the filing raises concerns that extend beyond USIS itself. He highlighted a bill that’s already been drafted that’s designed to address the background check issues.

“As part of this process, I am proud to have joined Senators Tester and McCaskill in supporting the SCORE Act, which includes some much-needed reforms to the security clearance process. Now that the Senate has approved this legislation, I am hopeful the House and the Senate will soon reconcile their differences between the two bills so we can get legislation to the President and signed into law,” Carper said. “I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and the Administration — which is in the process of completing its own review of the security clearance process — to enact whatever additional reforms may be needed to ensure the quality and integrity of background checks and the broader security clearance process.”

Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri teamed up to introduce the measure with GOP Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. The Senate passed the measure last October. The House has already passed a similar bill.

McCaskill and Tester had similar thoughts to Carper’s in their own statements.

“By now, the stunning failures of this company — and the resulting threats to our national security — are well-documented. But we can’t wait for the next disaster before tackling something as serious as lapses in protecting our nation’s secrets and our secure facilities,” McCaskill said. “We’ve seen swift action to boost accountability over these contractors, and I’m now calling on my colleagues to pass our bipartisan bill that would strengthen background checks through automatic reviews.”

“The complaint from the Justice Department demonstrates why Congress must pass meaningful legislation to curb these abuses and bring more accountability to the security clearance process. It’s always unacceptable for government contractors to defraud American taxpayers, but it’s even worse when our national security is on the line,” Tester said.

The federal court filing, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, calls into question the completeness of the work done by USIS on more than 650,000 background check reviews.

Update 5:15 p.m.

USIS has issued a statement in response that does not deny the alleged malfeasance:

Integrity and excellence are core values at USIS that guide the work of our outstanding 6,000 employees, many of whom have served our country in the military or through other government service. The alleged conduct referenced in the civil complaint is contrary to our values and commitment to exceptional service. These allegations relate to a small group of individuals over a specific time period and are inconsistent with the strong service record we have earned since our inception in 1996. Since first learning of these allegations nearly two years ago, we have acted decisively to reinforce our processes and management to ensure the quality of our work and adherence to OPM requirements. We appointed a new leadership team, enhanced oversight procedures, and improved control protocols. From the outset, we have fully cooperated with the government’s investigation and remain focused on delivering the highest quality service under our OPM contracts.

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