Security Clearance Investigations in the Hot Seat
This week the Department of Justice filed a new complaint against security clearance investigation firm USIS. The filing accuses the company of filing incomplete investigations approximately 40 percent of the time, at least 665,000 cases. USIS has been under fire in recent months, as congress steps up efforts to reform the security clearance process and improve security clearance background checks.
USIS conducted the background investigations for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as well as Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis. The DOJ complaint was filed in Alabama, and alleges at least four years of systemic and deliberate misconduct. In addition to the civil lawsuit, USIS faces accusations of criminal misconduct related to falsifying cases.
“USIS management devised and executed a scheme to deliberately circumvent contractually required quality reviews of completed background investigations in order to increase the company’s revenues and profits,” said the Justice Department complaint.”
A company statement refuted the allegations, highlighting recent changes in company leadership as well as improved oversight procedures. OPM did conduct a review of the Snowden and Alexis investigations, and found no misconduct.
Read more about the USIS lawsuit here.
There has already been significant debate about security clearance reform, and what it will mean for the investigation and adjudication community. While security clearance investigation reform remains the low-hanging fruit for now, it seems unlikely that scrutiny will stop there. At some point, oversight will need to dig into the processes that were enacted to award private companies millions of dollars in bonuses for producing incomplete work. When clearance investigations became all about speed and deadlines, quality suffered.
Just three years ago debate in Congress was focused on what could be done to speed up the security clearance process. Demand for cleared personnel was high, and focus was on increasing reciprocity. Today, no one is looking to improve speed, but everyone wants to criticize the process. The security clearance application backlog is in the thousands, thanks to sequestration. Congress will need to dig deeper than simply increasing investigation oversight if it wants to truly reform the process. But what steps will be taken, and what impact it will have on processing time, reciprocity, and adoption of better technology, remains to be seen.