Background Checks Faked With Lax Oversight, Watchdog Says

Investigators charged with conducting background checks of U.S. national-security workers have falsified records and aren’t receiving adequate oversight, according to an inspector general’s testimony.

One worker fabricated 1,600 credit checks before it was discovered her own background investigation had been falsified, Patrick McFarland, inspector general of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said in prepared testimony obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of a Senate hearing tomorrow.

While 18 investigators, including contract and government employees, have been convicted of falsifying reports since 2006, McFarland said the inspector general’s office lacks the resources to clear a backlog of an additional 36 cases.

“My office has been alarmed for several years about the lack of oversight,” he said in his written testimony. “Our resources remain woefully inadequate, preventing us from performing the level of oversight that such an important program requires.”

McFarland provided few details about the cases.

Passing a government background check is a requirement before the employee or a contractor is granted a security clearance.

Snowden Leak

The disclosure of secret documents describing two U.S. surveillance programs by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who had worked for Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH) and had a top-secret clearance, has called attention to the government’s process of vetting people who handle sensitive information.

Two Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittees plan to hold a hearing addressing the government’s security-clearance process.

The Office of Personnel Management is responsible for some 90 percent of the background investigations of U.S. government employees and contractors. The Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security are the biggest users of the program.

The personnel office conducts more than 2 million investigations a year, according to its website. It vets applicants for federal agency jobs and applicants for security clearances.

While the personnel office charges other federal agencies to conduct the checks, it isn’t allowed to include the cost of the inspector general’s oversight in its prices, according to McFarland.

President Barack Obama has included in his fiscal 2014 budget a proposal that would let the agency include oversight costs in the prices of its background investigations, McFarland said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nick Taborek in Washington at ntaborek@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Stoughton at sstoughton@bloomberg.net

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