The private contractor in question is USIS of Falls Church, Va., which handles about two-thirds of all federal government background checks and received a $253 million government contract last year. Alexis’s security clearance allowed him access to military facilities such as the Washington Navy Yard.
USIS “is under criminal investigation over whether it misled the government about the thoroughness of its background checks,” the Washington Post reports.
According to the BloombergBusinessWeek news agency, “Investigators are overworked and underpaid, security specialists say, and the government has become increasingly reliant on outside contractors to do background checks.”
Initially, USIS claimed that it did not handle the former Navy reservist’s file, but subsequently announced that it did his background screening in 2007. The US Office of Policy Management subsequently released a statement that it “reviewed the 2007 background investigation file for Aaron Alexis, and the agency believes that the file was complete and in compliance with all investigative standards.” USIS was originally a part of OPM before it was privatized in 1996.
US Senators are calling for an investigation into the security clearance process for federal contractors generally and have also asked the Obama administration about whether the Alexis background check in particular “addressed his pattern of misconduct, including his reported arrests on charges relating to firearms in 2004 and 2010, and his arrest for disorderly conduct in 2009,” ABC News reports.
According to the Post, “The government’s security clearance process is not designed to flag people struggling with mental illness.”
Federal prosecutors are also investigating the background check industry and may bring charges against any firms that cut corners in the federal vetting process.
About five million people currently hold security clearances from the government, the demand for which surged after the 9/11 attacks.