Background check company that screened Snowden to forfeit $30M

Greg Nash

The personnel vetting company that screened government leaker Edward Snowden and Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis has agreed to give up $30 million to settle federal fraud charges.

In order to pay the settlement, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday that United States Investigations Services (USIS) — the largest private background check firm used by the government, based in Falls Church, Va. — has agreed to forgo payments that it was otherwise owed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

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According to federal law enforcement officials, USIS officials carried out a plot to “flush” or “dump” individual cases that they deemed to be low-level in order to meet internal goals.

“Shortcuts taken by any company that we have entrusted to conduct background investigations of future and current federal employees are unacceptable,” Benjamin Mizer, the head of the Justice Department’s civil division, said in a statement. “The Justice Department will ensure that those who do business with the government provide all of the services for which we bargained.”   

Last year, the Justice Department joined the case of a whistle-blower complaint filed by Blake Percival, a former USIS executive. 

According to federal charges, top USIS officials knew of the dumping scheme, which had employees go through and mark background checks as complete, even when they had not gone through the proper process.

“Flushed everything like a dead goldfish,” one employee allegedly wrote in 2010.

The scheme was allegedly in place from March 2008 until September 2012.

Scrutiny of USIS ramped up over the last two years, on the heels of Snowden’s leaks of thousands of top-secret National Security Agency files and after Alexis killed 13 people in a 2013 shooting rampage in Washington’s Navy Yard. 

The company was also hit by a data breach in 2014 that exposed the files of at least 25,000 Department of Homeland Security workers.

USIS and its parent company, Altegrity, filed for bankruptcy in February.