DOJ is intervening in a False Claims Act lawsuit against a company accused of failing to do background investigations on people who were applying to work for government agencies. The company, DSIS, was hired to vet thousands of people who had applied for federal jobs or to be government contractors – except that the Department of Justice says sometimes it did not actually bother to do the screening. Two of the employees the company “vetted”? Aaron Alexis, who shot 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, and Edward Snowden, who is accused of leaking secret government information.
Blake Percival, a former employee of USIS, filed the FCA lawsuit that DOJ has decided to join. As a defense contractor whistleblower, Percival will be entitled to between 15-25% of what the U.S. recovers from USIS as a result of the accusations.
How USIS Cheated, According to DOJ
The Office of Personnel Management and other U.S. agencies outsource background checks to three contractors. USIS is the biggest of the three, and single-handedly completes 2/3 of the security clearance investigations.
I use the term “completes” quite loosely, since according to DOJ and Percival, USIS was achieving its quick results – and raking in wads of cash – by approving employees before it finished checking their backgrounds. OPM paid USIS $1900 for every report it completed before the next-to-last day of the month. If OPM missed that deadline, it only got $1425 for each investigative report.
DOJ says that USIS came up with a computer program that would automatically release the reports even if the company still had work to do to finish the investigation.
Percival worked for USIS as a director of fieldwork services. He says that the company fired him when he refused to tell his employees to dump reports on prospective employees and contractors that they had not finished vetting.
USIS Vetted Snowden and Alexis
Federal officials have said that USIS did not do a sufficient investigation into Snowden’s background. The company also cleared contractor Aaron Alexis, who shot 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard this past September. While officials initially said that USIS apparently did do a thorough job when it investigated Alexis, ABC News reports that the company did not even attempt to get a police report from Seattle. The police report described an incident in which Alexis shot out his neighbor’s tires in what he himself described as a blackout fueled by anger. The police report concluded that Alexis had anger management problems.
Fraud That Puts Us All at Risk
Percival filed his suit in the Middle District of Alabama, with the office of U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr. USIS has its headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia. Beck put into words why this type of fraud sends a cold shiver down my spine: “The increase in foreign and domestic terrorism places an increased responsibility on our government to ensure that unsuitable individuals are prohibited from government employment.”
We are left with this chilling question: who else is out there that USIS failed to investigate? Is there someone sitting in a position of trust on a military installation? Is there someone who landed a job inside an airport? Did someone get cleared to work in customs, “checking” the big containers that are shipped in? The issues may have seemed all financial to USIS, but the fact that these background checks were never done could lead to unfathomable consequences for Americans. The taxpayers were cheated out of money, but with this sort of fraud, the money we lost may be the least of our worries.
Under the False Claims Act, a company is liable for making false claims for payment. The DOJ and Percival allege that USIS made false claims when it demanded payment for doing background checks that it in fact never finished.