Former contractor did questionable background checks of IRS employees, says TIGTA

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A former government contractor allegedly performed hundreds of thousands of incomplete background investigations of federal government employees, including thousands of Internal Revenue Service staffers, according to a new report.

The report, from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, noted that U.S. Investigations Services, Inc. (USIS), a former contractor of the Office of Personnel Management, is alleged by the Justice Department to have done incomplete reviews of approximately 665,000 background investigations from March 2008 through September 2012 for the federal government. The Office of Personnel Management provided TIGTA with a list of 3,498 background investigations performed by USIS on IRS employees or appointees between March 2008 and September 2012 who allegedly received incomplete reviews. Of these 3,498 background investigations, IRS records indicated that as of October 2017, the IRS still employed 2,058 of those employees and appointees.

The Justice Department prosecuted a number of USIS employees who were under contract to conduct background investigations on behalf of the OPM’s Federal Investigative Services for making false representations regarding their work on background investigations. In some instances, the USIS contractors indicated they had conducted interviews or obtained records, when in fact they didn’t. TIGTA noted that incomplete investigations could result in employing or retaining unsuitable individuals in positions with access to IRS facilities, systems and sensitive information. USIS's parent company, Altegrity, filed for bankruptcy in 2015 after a scandal erupted over the background check on National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.

TIGTA reviewed a statistical sample of 76 USIS background investigations on IRS employees and appointees. The documentation was lacking to support the investigative work represented as completed by USIS in 75 of the 76 cases (that is, 99 percent of them). According to the Office of Personnel Management, the policies during the timeframe the USIS background investigations took place didn’t require documentation to be retained in the investigative file for certain types of investigative actions. However, the OPM concluded that in two of the 76 IRS Reports of Investigation, OPM investigative standards hadn’t been met. TIGTA found that IRS procedures didn’t include a process for assessing the quality or completeness of the background investigations.

TIGTA’s review of the records that were publicly available for its sample generally didn’t identify any unreported incidents or derogatory information about the employees. However, based on previous issues with USIS background investigations and the general lack of support in the sample files it reviewed, TIGTA said it has significant concerns about the quality and completeness of IRS employee investigations performed by USIS.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS’s human capital officer should prioritize the reinvestigation of any employee whose most recent background investigation was performed by USIS between March 2008 and September 2012, and put in place formal procedures to incorporate the guidelines developed by the Director of National Intelligence to assess the quality and completeness of background investigations the OPM provided.

The IRS agreed with both of TIGTA’s recommendations and said it has already taken action to address the recommendations.

“We realize that some IRS investigations may have been compromised as a result of USIS’ actions, and we agree with TIGTA’s two recommendations,” wrote IRS human capital officer Katherine M. Coffman in response to the report. “First, we are prioritizing the reinvestigation of those employees whose most recent background investigation was performed by USIS. Additionally, we incorporated into IRS policies and procedures in October 2017 the Director of National Intelligence’s guidelines to assess the quality and completeness of Reports of Investigation provided by the OPM.”

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