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 Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

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