Last week, the Justice Department announced that another investigator was caught falsifying information on background checks of federal government and contractor employees. The investigator pleaded guilty to making a false statement. She admitted that, on more than two dozen occasions in 2014 and 2015, she falsely claimed to have interviewed sources or reviewed records pertaining to individuals seeking positions that grant access to classified information or affect national security. The investigator was ordered to reimburse the government the nearly $190,000 it cost to redo her cases, and faces up to 18 months in prison.
According to the announcement, this is the twenty-seventh prosecution since 2008 involving falsified background checks. This investigator was employed by U.S. Investigations Services (USIS) and KeyPoint Government Solutions, contractors for the Office of Personal Management. She is the latest investigator caught “dumping” or “flushing” cases—submitting cases to the Office under the false assurance they are complete and properly reviewed. In 2014, the government filed a lawsuit against USIS claiming its employees had “dumped” or “flushed” at least 665,000 background checks. The company, which earned notoriety for having screened NSA leaker Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, settled the lawsuit for $30 million in 2015. By that time, USIS had lost most of its federal business and filed for bankruptcy.
Last week’s guilty plea is a reminder that serious problems still plague the federal security clearance system. Fallout from the USIS fraud scandal continues. Massive breaches of USIS and KeyPoint computer systems compromised the personal data of millions of current and former federal employees, further validating our longstanding concern that the government is relying too heavily on contractors to conduct background checks.
The number of individuals with security clearances—approximately 4 million government employees and contractors—has been declining in recent years, which should theoretically help reduce the growing backlog of pending clearance investigations. But this year, the Government Accountability Office added the security-clearance process to its “High Risk List,” which highlights government issues that require reform, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that the intelligence agencies are being “negatively impacted” by the backlog.
To fix these problems, the Trump administration recently announced it will transfer background investigations from the Office of Personnel Management to the Defense Department. Recall, however, that this function had previously been the Pentagon’s responsibility, and its reassignment in 2005 had been prompted by deficiencies in the management of the clearance program which caused delays in completing hundreds of thousands of clearance requests.
Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat. Whatever changes are made to the security clearance process, the end result should be timely, high-quality determinations of who should be allowed access to our country’s most sensitive information.