Lawsuit Alleges Unrealistic Caseload At Firm That Vets Defense Contractors

FILE - This Sunday, June 9, 2013 file photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, in Hong Kong.
FILE - This Sunday, June 9, 2013 file photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, in Hong Kong. Snowden has left Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and entered Russia his lawyer said on Thursday Aug. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, File)

WASHINGTON -- Another former investigator has sued the private, for-profit firm that performs many of the security clearance checks for U.S. government contractors, claiming she was routinely overworked and then fired after raising concerns.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Florida earlier this month, Dawn Kojac says she faced an impossible workload as she vetted contractors' backgrounds for U.S. Investigations Services, also known as USIS, which has a multi-billion-dollar contract to perform security checks for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Kojac claims her boss even admonished her for not moving fast enough on her investigations -- and for therefore hurting her boss' bonus.

USIS has come under congressional scrutiny ever since it became public that the firm had performed background checks on former contractor and security leaker Edward Snowden, as well as Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people in Washington, D.C., last month. OPM said it has reviewed USIS' check on Alexis, however, and found it to be "complete and in compliance with all investigative standards."

OPM's inspector general told Congress in June that the office was investigating the firm.

Kojac's complaint echoes an allegation made in other employee lawsuits and news reports since the Navy Yard shooting: The firm's work model compels investigators to churn through cases as quickly as possible, making it incompatible with the U.S. government's own standards for sensitive security checks.

A spokeswoman for USIS, which is based in Falls Church, Va., said the company wouldn't comment due to ongoing litigation.

Kojac said in the complaint that like other USIS investigators, she worked out of her home with a company car, interviewing acquaintances and pulling public records of candidates seeking government clearance. She said she was supposed to work 40 hours per week and needed to clear any overtime with a supervisor.

"USIS expected investigators to close their investigation within the specific time limits allotted to the file, regardless of the number of individuals to be interviewed or the length of the interviews," the complaint states.

According to Kojac, the extra work amounted to 10 to 20 hours each week, only some of which was approved overtime. "USIS essentially forced Kojac to work without overtime pay, under threat of termination if she did not meet company performance standards regarding the number of investigations assigned to her," the complaint states.

As The Huffington Post reported last month, USIS has been sued by its own investigators twice in California over similar allegations. Like Kojac, a plaintiff in one of those cases claims he was fired in part for complaining to management about the pace at which he was expected to work.

Stories in The Washington Post and The New York Times also described heavy workloads at the firm, with employees saying they felt pressure to wrap up cases and help the company meet its monthly revenue goals. The firm is paid by the government on a per-case basis. In August, The Wall Street Journal reported that a federal grand jury was investigating whether or not USIS was improperly rushing its cases in order to hit profit goals.

The vetting of government contractors used to be done in-house by an office inside OPM. In the mid-90s, the Clinton administration spun that office off to the private sector, creating USIS. The firm is currently owned by the private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, which purchased it in 2007 for $1.5 billion. According to the Times, USIS now has a $2.45 billion, five-year contract with the U.S. government.

This post has been updated to note that OPM found USIS' investigation of Alexis to be up to government standards.



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