Lawmaker Wants to Force Testimony From Security Clearance Firm CEO

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Gerald Herbert/AP File Photo

In the latest twist in the revelations of flawed employee background checks by contractors, a key Democrat on the House Oversight panel is demanding help from his chairman in coercing testimony on bonuses from the CEO of the government’s largest security clearance service provider.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who clashes frequently with Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on Monday delivered a letter requesting a transcribed interview with Sterling Phillips, CEO of the Falls Church, Va.-based U.S. Investigative Services, the company performing more background checks for the Office of Personnel Management than any other firm.

Investigations into former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks of classified materials last spring and a Washington Navy Yard contract employee’s fatal attack on colleagues last September showed that the contractors vetting federal employees and contractors took short cuts in their work.

The Justice Department is suing USIS under the False Claims Act for “dumping” as many as 665,000 incomplete background checks on OPM to meet deadlines.

Cummings’ complaint follows on a February staff report documenting that after a firm called Providence Equity Partners purchased USIS in 2007 for $1.5 billion, the company “adopted an aggressive new compensation plan to speed up its background investigations work,” at a time when former USIS CEO Bill Mixon received more than $1 million in bonuses, with other six-figure bonuses going to colleagues.

Cummings pressed Phillips for answers about USIS bonus policies during the period of alleged fraud. “USIS’s refusal to answer committee questions is unacceptable, and it contradicts the oath Mr. Phillips took at the outset of the hearing to tell the entire truth about the role of his company in an alleged conspiracy to perpetrate a multi-year, billion-dollar fraud against the U.S. taxpayers,” Cummings wrote.

Issa, on other occasions, has frequently required uncooperative witnesses to submit to a transcribed interview, Cummings wrote, noting that Issa himself had written Phillips in March saying the hearing record remains open for further answers on the bonuses.

Phillips had previously explained that the bonuses were determined by Altegrity, a holding company that was formed by Providence Equity Partners. Through his attorney, Phillips this month said he would have no further comment.

An Issa spokesman told Government Executive the committee is reviewing the letter. In a statement, USIS said, "The company has been very responsive to the OGR Committee, including engaging in open discussions in-person with committee members and staffers, responding to numerous written requests, and providing thousands of pages of materials related to our business and the background investigations process."

OPM did not respond to inquiries before publication.

Meanwhile, a group of senators is pushing a bill to keep contractors from conducting the final quality reviews of their own background investigations. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee last week cleared the bill, sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; and Mark Begich, D-Alaska. Though OPM Director Katherine Archuleta this spring announced that her agency would henceforth perform all final background check quality reviews, Tester said that this policy could be reversed in the future without legislation. 

This story was updated to include a comment from USIS. 

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.