Firm That Checked Snowden's Background Under Federal Scrutiny

Saturday, 03 Aug 2013 11:06 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Former officials of Falls Church, Va.-based US Investigations Services LLC have been served subpoenas in an ongoing probe over whether it rushed background checks through without conducting proper reviews.

The company conducted the last security check on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, The Wall Street Journal reports, and accused by federal prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of cutting corners to boost its processing record.

The company could eventually be found guilty of violating the False Claims Act, which makes it illegal to defraud the federal government.

Related: Criminal Probe Into Firm That Vetted Snowden

USIS performs nearly half of the government's background investigations, and has 100 contracts to provide services for at least 95 federal agencies, including the departments of Justice, State, Homeland Security, and Defense, along with about a dozen intelligence agencies, including NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office.

Even though the investigation fired up when Snowden leaked information about the NSA's surveillance practices, allegations actually started about the firm's practices in 2011, reports The Wall Street Journal, when a fired manager approached federal investigators. The company also cleared Snowden for government work in 2011.

"I think one thing we've learned here is that this is a really bad area to cut corners," said U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. McCaskill, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee is seeking tougher regulations for the background check industry.

While USIS denied comment, Michael John, a former USIS vice president of corporate communication, denied the company's push to speed up investigations did not jeopardize quality.

"We wanted volume. We wanted quantity," said John. "But if we did it wrong, everything from the company's brand and reputation to the ability to secure or develop new contracts would have been in jeopardy."

Merton Miller, associate director of the Office of Personnel Management, which runs the security -clearance process for the government, said in a written statement that the government takes "falsification very seriously," and has strengthened its own detection measures.

Nearly five million people hold government security clearances, and the background check industry marked massive growth after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks when the federal government increased hiring for top-secret jobs.

USIS at one point was a federal operation, but when the government privatized the background checks industry in 1996, it went to being an employee-owned business that now gets 90 percent of its business from the federal government.

Providence Equity bought out USIS in 2007 for $1.5 billion. Since then, former employees have said they were pressured to push incomplete checks through the system.

They claim veteran USIS Bill Mixon, who became president and CEO after Providence took over company, pushed them hard to close cases and threatened to fire one division director who did not follow his directions.

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