What It's Like to Work for a Background Check Contractor
The contractor responsible for vetting Edward Snowden in 2011 and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis in 2007, already under criminal investigation for "routine" background check failures, is coming under fire about the way they handle information and operate.
The contractor responsible for vetting Edward Snowden in 2011 and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis in 2007, already under criminal investigation for "routine" background check failures, is coming under fire about the way they handle information and operate. Workers are expected to turn out clearances and fast as humanly possible, with little regard for oversight and security.
"People were leaving their laptops at Starbucks," a former USIS investigator told the Washington Post. A number of former USIS workers told the Post about the pressures they faced to churn out background checks, the little oversight from their bosses, and the lack of security placed on personal information collected for the checks. USIS rules say any personal information collected for a background check must be kept behind two layers locks: "for instance, a locked file cabinet in a home, plus a locked front door would qualify," the Post explains. But in practice, things are much, much different. "People were leaving cases on top of their cars, information blowing off. We had a lady that left her files at Chuck E. Cheese with her kids," the same former employee said.
Two others described a workplace that put pressure on producing as many clearances as possible, paying little attention to "red flags" that should warrant a more thorough investigation. "It was like wink, wink, do this as fast as humanly possible... There was this intense pressure to do more and faster," one former employee said. "It’s very: 'Here’s a sheet of questions, ask the questions, hurry and get the answers, submit them and move forward,' said another. "There’s just not a lot of paying attention to potential red flags and that sort of thing."
USIS confirmed earlier this week they were responsible for vetting both Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked top secret government information, and 34-year old Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis. In the wake of the shooting, questions were raised about how Alexis obtained security clearance with his long history of gun-related arrests and mental health issues.
That USIS was responsible for Snowden and Alexis shouldn't come as much of a surprise: the company handles 45 percent of the Office for Personal Management's security clearance requests. That contract work is at risk because of the criminal investigation and the scrutiny facing the company right now, though.
Security procedures are under a big microscope in the wake of the shooting and Snowden's information dump. An audit by the Pentagon released this week also found fifty two cases where convicted felons were granted access to Navy facilities despite going through background checks. The Defense Department announced a review of all security clearance procedures after the report was released.