Contractors Are Still Taking Short Cuts on Background Checks, Audit Finds

Mmaxer/Shutterstock.com

The three main companies performing employee security clearance checks for the Office of Personnel Management need to improve their case reviews and training to curb the number of investigations being closed prematurely, a watchdog said on Thursday.

The largest contractor, USIS, along with CACI and KSG, allow too many background check files to be submitted without review due to poor controls and staff training, according to a final audit dated June 4 by OPM’s Assistant Inspector General for Audits Michael Esser.

One contractor completed 15,152 background investigation reviews in one month, the bulk within minutes of each other on different days, the IG said. At least 17 investigation reports were not reviewed by the contractor in charge before being sent to OPM. 

“As a result of no reviews occurring on these [reports of investigations] prior to submission to OPM, the contractors have not complied with contract requirements and have been paid for work that was not reviewed,” the audit said. “In addition, the lack of reviews can lead to inadequate work being performed and background investigation cases being potentially compromised.” Contractors are supposed to adhere to quality controls reflecting standards set by the Government Accountability Office. They’re permitted to use an automated submissions process designed by OPM’s Federal Investigative Services to avoid having files sit idle, but that procedure should not mean that files aren’t reviewed, the audit noted.

The urgency of improving security clearances intensified following former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about domestic surveillance last summer and a Washington Navy Yard contractor employee’s fatal shootings of colleagues in September.

In February, President Obama signed the SCORE Act, which aims to improve oversight of the clearance process. Impact of that law is not reflected in the final OPM inspector general audit released on Thursday because it covered the status of the background checks from Aug. 26 through Dec. 2, 2013.

“We’ve made progress in strengthening accountability in the security clearance process, but this troubling audit shows we have to do more to tighten controls over the system and its contractors—such as automated review and more rigid oversight,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of the bipartisan group that co-sponsored the SCORE ACT. “The kinds of threats facing this country today mean there can be no room for error when vetting the folks we trust with access to classified information.”

McCaskill is pushing for additional legislation to require OPM to regularly conduct randomly timed automated reviews of public records and databases to bring out new information on individuals who already have security clearances. That bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

The OPM watchdog gave credit to the Federal Investigative Services for being aware of some of the “abnormal” rapid reviews of background checks and for having taken administrative action against two such reviewers.

The audit identified five areas requiring improvement to strengthen controls, documentation and training. OPM generally agreed with the draft findings.

(Image via Mmaxer/Shutterstock.com)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.