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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

USIS fall draws mixed reactions

Our coverage of U.S. Investigative Services' fall from grace has become one of our more hotly debated stories of the year.

The approach I took in my commentary was that Office of Personnel Management was setting a dangerous precedent by dumping USIS in the aftermath of a cyberattack. Yes, I know USIS has been linked to the security clearance issues involving NSA leaker Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis.

The company also is the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit that the Justice Department has joined.

But the company has also moved aggressively to fix the problems associated with the lawsuit, bringing in a new management team.

USIS also has been cleared by OPM in any wrongdoing with the Snowden and Alexis investigations.

I argued that contractors should be fearful because OPM moved so aggressively after the cyberattack, which was self-reported by USIS. It’s a warning to contractors because OPM’s decision to cancel USIS’s contracts was a 180 degree turn from how the government usually handles cyberattacks. Generally, the government and the contractor work together to resolve the issue.

But I knew we were onto something when, within minutes of publishing my blog, we received two comments.

One said: This is ridiculous. Obviously OPM finally said, Enough is enough.

The other said: Thank you. Finally someone willing to state the obvious.

Since then, we’ve seen a back-and-forth debate with some commenters being pro-USIS and some being decidedly against. Some people question OPM’s competence, while others accuse USIS of profiteering.

Here are some highlights of my favorite comments from both sides. No one is using their name, so I’ve used dashes to distinguish where one comment ends and another begins.

Clearance work should be inherently government work. It's too important to allow a for-profit agency to be involved because all they worry about is not getting penalized for the past due clearance.

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People who were responsible for these alleged actions have long left the company. Yet, the innocent people who remained are now punished. All you hear daily is “debar USIS”, yet, the ones responsible for such damage are now the executives at competitors and the like. Instead of banning USIS, they should debar the individuals who put the company in this position.

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As a former OPM and USIS manager, we found it daunting, almost impossible to recruit and hire the numbers of suitable employees to conduct the volume of investigations required … Over the years, as the number of investigative requests increased, it was difficult to find more and more suitable candidates to perform the work. To make matters worse, customers requested more expedited investigations, causing backlogs in the investigations requiring less expedited completion dates. Good luck to OPM or whomever decides to tackle this problem which has been around for decades.

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This is part of an ongoing trend from this administration and its Office of Management and Budget. Any individual, agency (e.g., GSA) or contractor (e.g., USIS) that can draw political fire or criticism gets deep-sixed -- thrown by the wayside -- in an effort to placate the Daryl Issa's of the opposition. It never works, does it?

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If anything this should serve as a warning to contractors that if you conduct business in a dishonest/criminal fashion, no matter how big you think you are; the government WILL bring you to your knees and you will pay dearly.

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As a nation we classify way too much information which is available from alternate sources. This clogs the classification data systems and requires way too many clearances to perform work as either a direct government worker or contractor. It is a self-feeding system that is somewhat dysfunctional in its design.

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Little sympathy for a contractor with culture and ethics that allowed widespread "dumping" of less than fully complete BI reports. No one seems to raise also the specter of untold numbers of security risks, or worse, represented on the less than fully processed investigations, which the adjudicating agencies have used as the basis for granting clearances

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The problems started when the employee-owned company decided to sell to an investor. The company was sold to at least two additional investors. With each sale the focus was directed more on profit vice quality. The company went from an investigative agency to a lean, mean, profit making machine.

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Back to me: I particularly like the comments about the work being inherently governmental. That’s an important question to ask.

Along the same lines is the comment about the over-classification of information. That’s a long standing issue.

I think the ownership shift that USIS went through, from being employee-owned to private equity, is also worth weighing. I don’t think we should take lightly the impact that kind of change has on a company’s culture.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Sep 12, 2014 at 12:41 PM


Reader Comments

Mon, Sep 15, 2014 Joel Neil Gwinn

The field investigators have been predicting this debacle for years. From 2004 to the present, these people were chosen to lead this company on account of their expertise in greed, cutting corners, and their disregard for the foot soldiers who were doing the real work. The sad thing is that googling their names reveals that they have moved on to other executive positions and I guess their lives are intact after leaving the rest of our lives in shambles. Hopefully there is a such thing as karma.

Fri, Sep 12, 2014 Mel Ostrow

No tears for the private equity owners (classic smartypants, eh?), nor for the Federal depts. and agencies, which desperately need good investigatory product to do their vital work. Give them an investigatory resource that they can trust.

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