Three senators have introduced a bill to keep security clearance contractors from reviewing and approving their own security clearances.
The process has been under intense congressional scrutiny since contractor Aaron Alexis, who had red flags that should have been caught in a security clearance check, went on a September shooting rampage at the Navy Yard.
The same contractor that conducted Alexis’ background investigation, U.S. Investigative Services, ran a check on Edward Snowden. USIS, the largest contractor conducting background checks for the federal government, is under Justice Department investigation for allegedly running incomplete background checks to cash in quickly on its contract.
Employees of USIS have also sued the company over huge volumes of background checks that couldn’t possibly be conducted thoroughly on the timelines they were given.
“Letting federal contractors review their own work is like letting the fox guard the henhouse,” said sponsor Jon Tester, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce. “This common-sense bill will put national security ahead of profits, hold federal contractors more accountable, and make our nation safer.”
Other sponsors are Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska).
“It’s indefensible that contractors would ever have the authority to oversee themselves—particularly on work affecting our national security secrets and secure facilities,” said McCaskill, chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight. “It’s good news that the Administration has taken swift action to strengthen accountability in the past several months, but we have to do more. This legislation will further boost accountability and remove conflicts of interest by ensuring the same contractor won’t be able to both conduct background checks, and conduct a final review of that same background check process.”
In response to the controversies, the Office of Personnel Management announced that it would do security clearance checks instead of government contractors, but that’s an administrative decision that could be reversed at any time without legislation to require the checks and balances.
“Glitches in our government security clearance processes are unacceptable and recent tragedies have shown that there is no room for error,” said Begich. “Our bill is a simple fix creating checks and balances on the contractors conducting background investigations by prohibiting the same companies conducting background investigation work from also conducting quality review.”