United States Intervenes in Whistleblower Lawsuit Alleging Improper Background Checks

Whistleblower lawsuit

The private investigations firm responsible for vetting highly-publicized whistleblower Edward Snowden is now facing FCA liability for sloppy and irresponsible background check work.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The United States Department of Justice opted to intervene in a whistleblower case, filed in 2011, alleging faulty background checks performed by a private government contractor, United States Investigations Services, LLC (USIS). In the original whistleblower complaint, filed by former USIS employee Blake Percival, allegations suggest that USIS failed to perform the proper quality control protocol when approving applicants and employees through the government’s Office of Personnel Management. Interestingly, USIS was responsible for vetting former government employee Edward Snowden, who has since been linked with the unauthorized release of volumes of confidential and classified files involving several issues relating to U.S. homeland security. However, the specific allegations of this case do not involve USIS’s review of Snowden.

Details of Allegations Against USIS

Since 1996, USIS has been under contract with the U.S. government to perform background checks of applicants seeking employment with the Office of Personnel Management. The OPM is responsible for staffing nearly every federal agency and maintains the federal government’s career website, USAJobs.gov. Due to the perpetual influx of applicants and the need to fill vital government positions, OPM opted to outsource its background check investigations to USIS in exchange for USIS’s commitment to thoroughly investigate each applicant. In sum, USIS is responsible for vetting nearly half of all federal government employees.

Under the 2006 version of the contract between USIS and OPM, USIS was required to engage in “investigatory fieldwork” as well as engage the services of a USIS Reviewer to ensure OPM’s protocols were followed with regard to each applicant. According to the U.S. Government’s complaint, fieldwork may have required interviewing the applicant and his family, reviewing employment and education records, or scrutinizing the applicant’s credit report.

According to Percival’s original complaint, USIS began a practice in 2008 known as “dumping” or “flushing,” wherein USIS relied upon a computer software program to create and submit background checks to OPM for applicants who had not actually endured any rigorous investigations as required under the 2006 and subsequent agreements. The program marked applications with a “Review Complete” demarcation and submitted millions of files to OPM. This process significantly increased USIS’s revenue and lead to several performance bonuses for the company. In fact, performance bonuses from 2008 through 2011 topped $11 million above and beyond the stipend it received for each completed file. Additionally, the government’s complaint alleges that senior management at USIS actually encouraged the continuation of this dumping practice, even setting dumping goals for employees to meet each quarter.

Conclusion

In this case, the False Claims Act is being used to potentially hold a government contractor responsible for millions of dollars in fraudulent payments for background services performed sloppily and irresponsibly. The False Claims Act is not limited solely to healthcare fraud. In fact, it spans across every industry involved in business transactions with the federal government. If you are aware of a similar scheme occurring at your place of employment, or perhaps have information that just does not seem right, contact a reputable whistleblower attorney right away.

By | 2018-03-25T14:49:13+00:00 January 31st, 2014|False Claims Act Legal News|