US Government Intervenes In False Claims Lawsuit Against United States Investigations Services For Failing To Perform Required Quality Reviews Of Background Investigations
Background checks are an important tool in preventing insider breaches. After Edward Snowden’s leaks became public, eyes turned to the firm that was responsible for checking his background, USIS. And now they’re in a slew of potentially very hot water:
The government has intervened in a lawsuit filed under the False Claims Act against United States Investigations Services LLC (USIS) in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, the Department of Justice announced today. The lawsuit alleges that USIS, located in Falls Church, Va., failed to perform quality control reviews in connection with its background investigations for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
The lawsuit was filed by a former employee of USIS, Blake Percival, under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties, known as relators, to sue on behalf of the government when they believe false claims for government funds have been submitted. The private party is entitled to receive a share of any funds recovered through the lawsuit. The False Claims Act also permits the government to investigate the allegations made in the relator’s complaint and to decide whether to intervene in the lawsuit, and to recover three times its damages plus civil penalties. The government is intervening now based on the results of its investigation of the relator’s allegations and has requested that the court give it until Jan. 22, 2014, to file its own complaint.
“We will not tolerate shortcuts taken by companies that we have entrusted with vetting individuals to be given access to our country’s sensitive and secret information,” said Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Justice Department will take action against those who charge the taxpayers for services they failed to provide, especially when their non-performance could place our country’s security at risk.”
Since 1996, USIS has contracted with OPM to perform background investigations on individuals seeking employment with various federal agencies. Executed in 2006, the contract at issue in the lawsuit required USIS to conduct the investigatory fieldwork on each prospective applicant. It also required that a trained USIS Reviewer perform a full review of each background investigation to ensure it conformed to OPM standards before sending the file back to OPM for processing.
According to the relator’s complaint, starting in 2008, USIS engaged in a practice known at USIS as “dumping.” Specifically, USIS used a proprietary computer software program to automatically release to OPM background investigations that had not gone through the full review process and thus were not complete. USIS allegedly would dump cases to meet revenue targets and maximize its profits. The lawsuit alleges that USIS concealed this practice from OPM and improperly billed OPM for background investigations it knew were not performed in accordance with the contract.
“Thorough, appropriate and accurate background checks are essential in the employment of government personnel,” said George L. Beck Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. “The increase in foreign and domestic terrorism places an increased responsibility on our government to ensure that unsuitable individuals are prohibited from government employment.”
“This is a clarion call for accountability,” said Patrick E. McFarland, Inspector General of OPM. “As recent events have shown, it is vital for the safety and security of Americans to have these background investigations performed in a thorough and accurate manner. We can accept no less. Those responsible for any malfeasance that compromises the integrity of the background investigations process must be held accountable.”
“OPM does not tolerate fraud or falsification,” said Elaine Kaplan, Acting Director of OPM. “We work hard to prevent and detect both through a variety of means including a robust integrity assurance program, multiple levels of review and workforce education and training. We also work hand in hand with our Inspector General and the Department of Justice when we discover fraud so that bad actors are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
This matter was handled by the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama in conjunction with OPM’s Office of Inspector General and Federal Investigative Service.
The claims asserted against USIS are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.