A new law could counteract clearance investigation fraud – those situations where background investigators report interviews they never conducted, and document records checks they never performed.
After it was reported that Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis was granted a clearance despite having lied to investigators about his arrest record and personal debts (among other things), Congress has been scrambling to tighten the investigation process.
Surprisingly, a major first-step was merely snipping some administrative red tape.
How Severe is Clearance Investigator Fraud?
Last June, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Inspector General Patrick McFarland testified before Congress on the rash of falsified background checks.
“We had one situation where a background investigator admitted to falsifying 1,600 credit checks,” said McFarland. “During the course of our investigation, we discovered that her background investigation had been completed by an individual convicted in a different Federal Investigative Services fabrication case.”
At the time of his testimony:
- Eighteen OPM and contract background investigators and record searchers had been criminally convicted.
- These cases alone resulted in nearly $1.3M in court-ordered restitution to OPM.
- Approximately 50 other cases at various stages of investigation were being pursued.
McFarland testified that because of his office’s limited resources, they were constrained to pursuing only the most egregious instances of investigator misbehavior.
Why the lack of investigator oversight?
The OPM Inspector General is charged with overseeing the services OPM provides to government agencies. These services – known as “Revolving Fund programs” – are primarily human resources activities like training, staffing, etc., which are provided to agencies on a fee-for-service basis.
One key program is Federal Investigative Services, which performs over 90 percent of the government’s background investigations.
“Under existing law, the Inspector General’s oversight costs cannot be charged to the revolving fund,” explained Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), a key figure in remedying the problem. “As a result, for fiscal year 2013, the Inspector General had only available $3 million to conduct oversight of OPM’s program involving $2 billion.”
According to General McFarland, this prohibition on accessing OPM general funds is a “serious problem” resulting in their inability to effectively oversee activities like background investigations.
New Law for 2014
The “OPM IG Act”, recently signed into law by President Obama, permits the OPM Inspector General to dip into the Revolving Fund for “audits, investigations, and oversight activities” of its programs.
With this infusion of resources, proponents are hopeful for heightened scrutiny in the issuance of government security clearances.
The new law “will root out fraud within the background check systems, and increase the transparency and accountability of the federal government,” according to its legislative sponsor, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX).
When in Congress, the bill passed with bipartisan support. It is a cost-neutral provision, requiring no new appropriations from Congress.