Updated at 4:50 pm EDT
At first, the U.S. government contractor that cleared Edward Snowden for top secret access said it didn’t vet the Washington Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, for his security clearance. Then it said it did.
USIS, part of Falls Church, Virginia-based Altegrity Inc., owned by Providence Equity Partners LLC., is the government’s top provider of background checks. The Office of Personnel Management, which conducts most federal background investigations, paid the company $253 million for its work last year, an amount that represented 67 percent of the personnel office’s spending on the investigations.
“USIS did not conduct the background investigation of Mr. Alexis,” Ray Howell, a company spokesman, told us at first. “The company has no further comment.”
Then, later this afternoon, he issued this statement:
“Today we were informed that in 2007, USIS conducted a background check of Aaron Alexis for OPM. We are contractually prohibited from retaining case information gathered as part of the background checks we conduct for OPM and therefore are unable to comment further on the nature or scope of this or any other background check.”
Bloomberg News isn’t alone in asking who vetted Alexis, who on Monday killed 12 people and had a history of arrests, apparent mental illness and military misconduct. He was killed by police following his shooting rampage. Four lawmakers including Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, yesterday asked the personnel office’s inspector general to scrutinize Alexis’s background investigation.
“I want to know who conducted his background investigation, if that investigation was done by contractors, and if it was subject to the same systemic problems we’ve seen with other background checks in the recent past,” McCaskill, head of a Homeland Security subcommittee on contracting oversight, said in a statement.
USIS competes with CACI International Inc. and Keypoint Government Solutions Inc., a unit of Veritas Capital, a New York-based private equity firm.
Almost 5 million people held security clearances as of Oct. 1, 2012, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Federal clearances and background investigations by the Office of Personnel Management cost taxpayers about $1 billion last year, with the expense expected to rise to $1.2 billion by 2014, according to McCaskill’s office.
The government is increasingly outsourcing the checks. The ranks of contract workers helping to do background investigations on contractors and federal employees swelled 15 percent to almost 6,800 last year from fiscal 2011, according to the personnel office.
USIS’s prominence as a background check contractor is due to its origin as the Federal Investigations Division of the Office of Personnel Management. The unit, originally known as U.S. Investigations Services Inc., was privatized in 1996 as part of then-Vice President Al Gore’s effort to “reinvent” government by reducing the size of the civil service, according to a 2011 report by the Congressional Research Service.
Contracting out security reviews was designed to help save the government money and secure new work for about 700 investigators who would no longer be needed because of a declining security clearance workload due to the end of the Cold War.
USIS was given a non-competitive, three-year contract for investigative work with the government personnel office and granted free access to federal computer databases that weren’t available to other firms.
The Carlyle Group LP, a Washington-based private equity firm, and New York-based Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe LP invested in USIS. They agreed in 2007 to sell USIS to Providence, Rhode Island-based Providence Equity Partners for about $1.5 billion.
Patrick McFarland, inspector general of the personnel office, has said there may have been shortcomings in USIS’s vetting of Snowden, the national security contractor now known for leaking information about national surveillance programs. Facing federal charges, including espionage, he has fled to Russia.
Among 10 background-check workers employed by contractors who have been convicted or pleaded guilty to falsifying records since 2006, eight worked for USIS, Bloomberg reported in July.
In one case, Kayla M. Smith, a former investigative specialist for USIS, submitted some 1,600 falsified credit reports, according to the inspector general’s office.
She pleaded guilty in August 2009 to falsifying one out of three credit checks she performed during an 18-month period, according to a Justice Department statement. Smith, then 25, received three years of probation. She also was ordered to pay about $95,300 in restitution to USIS and an estimated $4,300 to the personnel office.
The investigator who had vetted Smith was convicted in a separate falsification case, said McFarland at a June 20 hearing held by two Senate panels.
A recent case involved Ramon Davila, 59, a former worker for contractors including USIS, Fairfax, Virginia-based ManTech International Corp. and Largo, Maryland-based Systems Application & Technologies. Davila pleaded guilty last month to submitting documents that contained false reports about interviews he had never conducted and records he had never obtained.
In another case, Anthony J. Domico, a former contractor who had worked for CACI and Systems Application & Technologies Inc., was hired to check the backgrounds of government workers. He filed a 2006 report with the results of an investigation.
There was just one hitch.
A person he claimed to have interviewed had been dead for more than a decade.