The Union Recorder

Community News Network

September 24, 2013

Should profit-driven firms be doing background checks?

WASHINGTON — In the wake of the Washington Navy Yard killings - 12 dead plus the shooter - President Obama called for an examination of the security clearance process.

"It's clear we need to do a better job of securing our military facilities and deciding who gets access to them," Obama said as he remembered the slain at a memorial service Sunday. "And as commander in chief, I have ordered a review of procedures up and down the chain."

That review undoubtedly will look at how Aaron Alexis was able to have a security clearance that allowed him to work at the Navy Yard, despite nine years of warning signs, as Sunday's Washington Post reported.

As the Obama administration looks at how the government can do a better job of "deciding who gets access," some of the president's strongest supporters would like the review to consider who does the background security investigations that lead to those decisions.

Before getting into that, let's deal with the intersection of last week's big news regarding background security investigations and this week's big news, the looming partial government shutdown. If some federal offices close next month because Congress has not approved temporary funding, will background investigations shut down, too?

No.

The investigations "are funded through a revolving fund account, which would not be subject to a government shutdown due to a lapse in appropriation," according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Returning to the question of conducting the investigations, should that continue to be done by private companies, with their obligation to make money, or federal employees, whose obligation is to serve the people and their government? The background investigations provide the information that agencies need to determine who gets security clearances to work on military bases and in other sensitive government facilities.

For the largest government employee union, long wary of contractors doing the government's work, the answer is clear.

"We do believe that standards for security clearances for contractors need to be changed, and that most government work that involves security clearances should be performed by federal employees, not contractors," said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). "In addition, we believe that access to government facilities for contractors should be severely restrained."

Stan Soloway, president and chief executive of the Professional Services Council, which represents contractors, doesn't buy that argument.

"Whether the investigations are conducted internally or externally, they are subject to the same quality controls and requirements," he said. "Should we assess the quality of oversight of background checks performed, be it by government or contractor personnel? Absolutely. But to suggest there are more issues or risks with one community versus the other is fundamentally contrary to the facts and is more a matter of convenience than substance."

Yet reporting by my Washington Post colleagues reveals troubling stories from former workers at USIS, the firm that did background checks for both Alexis and Edward Snowden, who leaked highly secret National Security Agency information. Both Alexis and Snowden, by the way, were government contractors.

USIS was spun off from OPM, with some employees of the agency's security and investigations unit going to the newly formed private firm. "USIS was established in July 1996 as a result of the privatization of the investigative branch of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)," says the company's Web site.

Uncle Sam gave the company a great start-up gift - a three-year noncompetitive contract. Today, it has 100 federal contracts.

The Washington Post's Jia Lynn Yang wrote that one former USIS investigator said the push to increase the volume of completed investigations "was like wink, wink, do this as fast as humanly possible. . . . There was intense pressure to do more and faster."

USIS declined to comment.

Doing more faster certainly doesn't apply to contractors only. Many federal employees probably feel the same pressure, particularly during a time of budget cuts. But one thing does set Sam apart - he doesn't operate on the profit motive.

"There is absolutely no question that privatization of the process of conducting background checks was a costly mistake," Cox said. "The incentives are all wrong for this crucially important government function. Minimizing cost to maximize profits in this context just means failing to take the time or hiring the people necessary to do a thorough job. If ever there were a good candidate for insourcing, this would be it."

Pardon the jargon, but given the history of USIS, it would be "re-insourcing."

          

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 1.33.11 PM.png VIDEO: High-dive accident caught on tape

    A woman at a water park in Idaho leaped off a 22-foot high dive platform, then tried to pull herself back up with frightening results. Fortunately, she escaped with only a cut to her finger.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 25, 2014

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 25, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Arizona's prolonged lethal injection is fourth in U.S. this year

    Arizona's execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.3

    July 24, 2014

  • Police Brutality screen shot. Technology plays key part in battling police brutality (VIDEO)

    Allegations of police brutality are nothing new -- as long as there has been law enforcement, citizens have registered claims that some officers cross the line. But in the last few years, the claims of excessive force are being corroborated with new technology from cell phone cameras, police dash-cams and surveillance videos. 

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

  • Has the ipad lost its swag?

    July 24, 2014

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 23, 2014

Poll
AP Video
Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground
Facebook
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Stocks
NDN Video
GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1" Trailer is Here! Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years