By NEIL GORDON
POGO saw a familiar name pop up in the news this week. On Tuesday, the Department of Justice announced that a former employee of federal contractor United States Investigations Services (USIS) had pleaded guilty to a charge of making a false statement in the course of his work for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducting background checks of individuals either employed by or seeking employment with federal agencies and contractors.
Bryan M. Marchand of Montgomery, AL, became the latest in a string of background investigators prosecuted in recent years for falsifying their work—claiming to have interviewed a source or reviewed a record regarding the subject of the background investigation when, in fact, they had not done so. Former USIS employee Miccah L. Dusablon pleaded guilty in January. Stewart Chase, who worked as a background investigator for both USIS and top 100 contractor CACI International, pleaded guilty last July. According to the DOJ, in the last three years, 11 background checkers and two record checkers have been convicted of making false statements while working on federal background investigations.
USIS first came to POGO’s attention in 2008. In October of that year, it was reported that the State Department hired USIS to staff a special “Go Team” unit to investigate allegations of excessive force against civilians by American private security contractors in Iraq. The $4.4 million contract came under fire for apparently violating the law regarding the outsourcing of an inherently governmental function—in this case, allowing USIS to perform “the direct conduct of criminal investigations.” State eventually cancelled the contract.
As we noted in that 2008 blog post, USIS has an interesting history. It had been part of the OPM until it was privatized in 1996. USIS still serves as OPM’s go-to provider of background checks, but it has also branched out in the federal marketplace and now holds lucrative contracts with other agencies, particularly State and the Department of Homeland Security.
Before the “Go Team” contract fiasco, there was the mysterious death of Army Colonel Ted Westhusing in 2005. Westhusing, who was in charge of overseeing USIS’s $79 million contract to train police in Iraq, was found dead on a military base with a gunshot wound to his head. His death was ruled a suicide, but some believe he was the victim of foul play while looking into allegations of serious misconduct by USIS. The investigation into Westhusing’s death might have been compromised by a USIS employee who discovered the body, thus raising further concerns about the company.
The recent spate of background investigator prosecutions is a very serious matter. The reports prepared by these investigators are relied upon by federal agencies in determining whether individuals are suitable for positions having access to classified information, positions impacting national security, or for receiving or retaining security clearances. An investigator charged with making false representations means OPM must reopen and rework numerous background investigations at great cost to the taxpayer—nearly $200,000 in Marchand’s case.
The offenders who were caught were ordered to reimburse the government, and POGO is not aware of any serious security breaches caused by a compromised background check. Nonetheless, incidents like this give POGO even more reason to worry about the government’s reliance on contractors. How many more convictions must happen before we rethink giving contractors such a key role in determining who gets to work in the government’s most sensitive jobs?
Neil Gordon is a POGO investigator.
Image via jwriddle.