U.S. joins lawsuit against firm that vetted Snowden

Reuters

By Aruna Viswanatha and David Ingram

WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Departmentsaid on Wednesday it had joined a lawsuit filed by awhistleblower against United States Investigations Services, theprivate firm that vetted Edward Snowden before he leakeddocuments about U.S. spying efforts.

While the lawsuit is not about the firm's review of Snowden,it alleges that USIS failed to perform quality control reviewsin connection with its background investigations. It wasoriginally filed in Alabama more than two years ago.

The government's decision to join the lawsuit adds tobuilding public pressure on the firm, which is the U.S.government's biggest contractor for investigations of potentialemployees. The firm also vetted Aaron Alexis, the technologycontractor who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard lastmonth.

A USIS spokeswoman said the firm was cooperating with thegovernment's investigation and had replaced its leadership andimproved its controls since they first heard of the allegationslast year.

The firm has had a contract since 1996 to vet individualsseeking employment with federal agencies. Such background checksinclude investigative fieldwork on each application.

But since 2008, the firm used software to releaseinvestigations that were not yet complete in order to meetrevenue targets, the government said.

The firm concealed the practice, known as "dumping," andimproperly billed the federal Office of Personnel Management forthe work, the DOJ said.

"The behavior by a small number of employees alleged in thecomplaint is completely inconsistent with our company values,culture and tradition of outstanding service to our governmentcustomers," the USIS spokeswoman said in an email.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2011 by a former employee ofthe firm, Blake Percival, under the False Claims Act. The lawthat lets people collect rewards for blowing the whistle onfraud against the government.

Percival said in the lawsuit that he was fired in June 2011for refusing orders to "dump" cases that were not finished.

As a result of the Justice Department's decision to join, ajudge unsealed the original lawsuit in U.S. District Court forthe Middle District of Alabama. The department is now scheduledto file a revised complaint by Jan. 22.

"We will not tolerate shortcuts taken by companies that wehave entrusted with vetting individuals to be given access toour country's sensitive and secret information," a JusticeDepartment official, Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery,said in a statement.

The news of the lawsuit came the day before a U.S. Senatehearing scheduled to examine government clearances andbackground checks. Elaine Kaplan, acting director of the Officeof Personnel Management, is among the expected witnesses.

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