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In an FBI handout image taken from a security camera, Aaron Alexis carries a shotgun during the Washington Navy Yard shooting that left 12 people dead on Sept. 16, 2013.

., FBI via New York Times

FILE -- The headquarters of USIS, right, a company that conducts 400,000 yearly security clearance checks for the government, in Falls Church, Va., Dec. 15, 2011. The private company's security clearance checks have included those of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, and Aaron Alexis, who the police say shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16, 2013. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

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Quotas reportedly led firm to rush security clearances

  • Article by: TRIP GABRIEL
  • New York Times
  • September 27, 2013 - 6:57 PM

 

The calls and e-mails from top executives came toward the end of each month, former managers at USIS recalled. The company needed to swiftly complete investigating security clearances for the government in order to reach its monthly revenue goal, the managers said they were told. Finally, there was an order: “Flush” everything you’ve got.

The directive to give quick final approval of background investigations without reviewing them for quality — known as flushing — was sent, the managers said, to a branch office of USIS, a company whose 700,000 yearly security checks for the government have included those of Edward J. Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, and Aaron Alexis, who the police say shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last week.

In interviews this week, former and current USIS employees detailed how the company had an incentive to rush work because it is paid only after a file is marked “FF,” for fieldwork finished, and sent to the government. In the waning days of a month, investigations were closed to meet financial quotas, without a required review by the quality control department, two former senior managers said.

The details of how its contract was structured provide new insight into the workings of USIS, a company that is now the focus of two federal inquiries, including a grand jury investigation in Washington, according to congressional testimony and people with knowledge of the proceedings.

The federal Office of Personnel Management confirmed that it pays USIS on a piecework basis. “The vendor is paid upon the delivery of a completed case,” the agency said in a statement. People familiar with the contract said it was intended to give the company an incentive to be efficient.

USIS, based in Falls Church, Va., and the largest outside investigator for security clearances for the federal government, declined to comment.

A person familiar with the USIS corporate structure said that two top executives, a division president and the chief financial officer, had been fired after being found responsible for ordering the flushing.

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the need for Americans with security clearances to work for the Pentagon and military contractors has soared, with a long backlog building up in the early years of the Bush administration.

Since questions about the security clearances for Snowden and Alexis came to light, however, some in Congress are asking whether speeding up cases led to unintended consequences: investigators prone to cut corners and, in extreme cases, to falsify reports.

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