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The same federal contractor that vetted Edward Snowden, who leaked information about classified U.S. spying programs, also performed a background check that let the Washington Navy Yard shooter obtain a security clearance.
Now the contractor, USIS, is drawing fire from a U.S. senator asking how Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis slipped through the cracks.
Being implicated in two of the biggest security eff-ups of the last year probably requires some "we're sorry" ads, maybe a new Twitter campaign, and possibly a change even to the company name (is Blackwater available, or did someone else call dibs on that one?)
There's a caveat, however. The federal contractor was responsible for background checks in these two cases primarily because USIS is responsible for the majority of all background checks, period.
No company does more U.S. government background checks for clearances than USIS, which was awarded $253 million by the Office of Personnel Management last year. The company did about two-thirds of background investigations done by contractors, and more than half of all those performed by the U.S. personnel office, according to Senator Claire McCaskill’s office.
Background checks of course have limited prognostication abilities—exploring a person's past is not fully predictive of their future motivations, after all, though you might want to know if the person you are about to give "secret" clearance to has a history of instability and waving guns around—but privatizing security checks and turning them into a for-profit industry seems to have its own problems. USIS was formed as a privatized offshoot of the Office of Personnel Management during the Clinton administration, back during one of the previous rounds of privatizing things for the sake of privatizing them. Recent events have caused some, like Sen. McCaskill, to wonder whether or not there is a fundamental flaw in the current arrangement, though I doubt "perhaps this should not be done by outside companies at all" is going to come up much.
Originally posted to Hunter on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 12:46 PM PDT.