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Friday
May092014

DOJ joins false claims action against Snowden background check firm

The background-check firm USIS faces a false claims action brought by a whistleblower and joined by the DOJ that alleges insufficient vetting was part of USIS's scheme to maximize profits. 

U.S. Investigations Services (USIS) is a private firm and the largest provider of background investigations for the federal government, which mandates that federal employees and contractors undergo background investigations prior to employment.

On April 25, a district court judge approved the transfer of the case from Alabama to Washington, D.C.

The case was brought by a former USIS employee who had filed a whistleblower suit in 2011 accusing the company of cutting corners in its reviews of background investigations supplied to the government, Federal News Radio reported Thursday.

The Justice Department joined the case in October, alleging that the company signed off on at least 665,000 background investigations over a 4 1/2 year period that had never been properly vetted in a scheme to enhance its profits.

The False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. 3729 et seq.) allows private persons to sue contractors on behalf of the United States. The government then has time to investigate the allegations and decide whether to intervene. Either way, the whistleblower can be awarded a portion of the recovered damages, usually between 15% and 25%.

USIS has until June 4 to respond to the DOJ's allegations.

USIS's vetting procedures were thrown into international focus last year when it was revealed it had performed background investigations of both National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis.

In September, USIS was sued by employees in California who claimed the company enforces unrealistic deadlines for security clearance investigations, according to court documents.

In October, Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to conduct its own, automatic reviews of existing clearances using public-records databases.

The DOJ's complaint does not refer to the ongoing Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis investigations, or the suit brought by the California employees.

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Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.