The federal government has intervened in a whistleblower lawsuit against United States Investigations Services LLC (USIS), a company that provides most of the vetting and investigations of employee candidates for sensitive and high-security positions within the U.S. government.
Beasley Allen lawyers W. Daniel “Dee” Miles, III, and Larry Golston filed the lawsuit in June 2011 under the False Claims Act on behalf of former USIS employee Blake Percival. However, as counsel for Mr. Percival, they are unable to comment on pending litigation.
Mr. Percival alleges that USIS, based in Falls Church, Va., failed to perform quality-control reviews when investigating the backgrounds of potential employees for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
USIS performed the vetting services for former CIA employee and NSA contractor Edward Snowden before he leaked U.S. documents about U.S. surveillance and spying practices, and former technology contractor Aaron Alexis, who shot 12 people to death at the Washington Navy Yard in September. Both of those incidents occurred after Mr. Percival filed his whistleblower complaint and are not mentioned in his lawsuit.
Since 2008, USIS used a special proprietary software program to automatically release background investigations before they were complete in an effort to meet revenue targets and maximize its profits, Mr. Percival alleges in his lawsuit.
USIS has investigators in the field go out and gather information on an individual for whom a background check is requested by some federal department or agency. There may be multiple investigators on one case who are assigned to cover different issues concerning a person. The investigators all do a report and send it in to another USIS employee called a reviewer. The reviewer looks over the information to make sure it is complete and accurate and/or if there is any follow-up questioning needed.
USIS gets paid each month by the government for completed background checks (e.g. investigated and reviewed). However, because background checks are time- and fact-intensive, the lawsuit alleges USIS decided to submit background investigations to the government as complete that had not been fully vetted. USIS did this through a process called “dumping” or “flushing” – that is they would simply tell the reviewers to go into the computer software they used to submit a background investigation to the government. In some cases, these investigations would be submitted without an investigator having ever done anything on the file.
The lawsuit alleges that USIS conducted this practice, known as “dumping,” in secret and billed OPM for its improper, unfinished work. Mr. Percival claims in the lawsuit that USIS fired him in 2011 for refusing to “dump” unfinished background investigations.
“We will not tolerate shortcuts taken by companies that we have entrusted with vetting individuals to be given access to our country’s sensitive and secret information,” Stuart Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a statement. “The Justice Department will take action against those who charge the taxpayers for services they failed to provide, especially when their non-performance could place our country’s security at risk.”
A federal judge in Alabama unsealed the case when the U.S. Justice Department decided to join it. Whistleblowers who sue on behalf of the U.S. government may continue to pursue their lawsuits with or without the federal government’s involvement. In exchange, whistleblowers, formally known as “relators,” receive up to 30 percent of the recovery.