Oversight Chairman Subpoenas OPM on Security Clearances

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., expressed frustration with OPM’s response to his panel’s series of letters seeking documents relating to the training of contractors who perform background checks. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., expressed frustration with OPM’s response to his panel’s series of letters seeking documents relating to the training of contractors who perform background checks. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

This story has been updated. 

Citing “disheartening” gaps in the government’s security clearance process, the top House oversight chairman on Friday issued a subpoena to the newly installed director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, expressed frustration with OPM’s response to his panel’s series of letters seeking documents relating to the training of contractors who perform background checks, work that has been called into question since this fall’s Navy Yard shooting and leaks from terminated National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

“As the clearinghouse for the federal security clearance process, the Office of Personnel Management has a responsibility to present a complete picture of all subjects who are being adjudicated for a security clearance,” Issa said in a statement. “In regards to the Washington Navy Yard shooter, OPM failed to provide adequate documentation to the Navy, including an arrest record -- easily obtained by committee investigators -- that showed he discharged a weapon in public and behaved erratically.”

In a Nov. 20 letter to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, who took office Nov. 4, Issa said Congress needs to examine training documents in order to craft legislation to improve the quality of background checks. He expressed particular interest in a training exercise titled, “How to complete a thirty-day caseload in less than thirty days,” suggesting that such training encourages corner-cutting in reviewing such sources as the law enforcement records on security clearance candidates.

OPM’s acting general counsel, Sharon M. McGowan, had responded to October letters from Issa and Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., offering to allow committee staff to review the documents “in camera.” But she argued that releasing the internal training documents might enable the subjects of background investigations to use them “as a roadmap to falsifying case papers and interviews and compromising references and other sources.”

Issa said that argument was “not sufficient reason to withhold” the documents from Congress, and gave Archuleta until the end of Nov. 21 to comply voluntarily. “Issuing this subpoena became necessary after OPM’s continued refusal to produce relevant documents,” Issa said Friday.

Specifically, the subpoena demands all documents dealing with training guidelines for staff or contract investigators; documents relating to performance appraisal criteria for investigators; documents relating to reviews of security clearance decisions; documents that identify OPM employees or contractors who serve as quality reviewers in the security clearance progress; and copies of all security clearance contracts signed by OPM with contractors U.S. Investigations Services, CACI International Inc. and Keypoint Government Solutions Inc.

"We have already made these documents available to the committee for review," an OPM spokeswoman said Monday. "We have received the subpoena and plan to respond as appropriate."

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