US agency urged to yank vetting firm contract

US agency urged to yank vetting firm contract

WASHINGTON - US lawmakers have urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to withdraw a US$190 million (S$238 million) border security contract awarded to a company which checks government employees' backgrounds and suffered a cyber attack disclosed last month.

Five Republican members of the US House of Representatives said this week it was "unconscionable and indefensible" of DHS to award the contract to US Investigations Services (USIS). The company is facing fraud charges from the US Justice Department for "dumping" 665,000 background check cases without conducting proper reviews.

"Considering their past record and these worrisome allegations, we believe the stakes are too high to allow USIS to be put in charge of one of our most important border security programs," the lawmakers said told DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Representative Matt Salmon, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, and four other lawmakers urged Johnson in a letter dated Sept. 2 to withdraw the contract until the issues were resolved.

Several senators have also questioned the government's decision to award another contract to USIS despite the charges.

No immediate comment was available from DHS.

USIS, which carried out the background checks on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, has faced growing scrutiny in recent years.

Last month, US government officials said a major data breach at the Falls Church, Virginia-based company compromised data of at least 25,000 workers, including some undercover investigators, and that number could rise.

The USIS breach exposed highly personal information of workers at DHS headquarters as well as its US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and US Customs and Border Protection units.

FCi Federal Inc, a smaller vetting firm, has filed a protest against the contract awarded to USIS in July by DHS's US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The protesting company argued that the fraud charges filed against USIS should have disqualified it from the work.

"No rational person, having discovered that a plumber duped a neighbour into paying full price by lying about completing 40 per cent of the work, would hire that same plumber because the plumber claimed he did a 'quality job' for the neighbour," FCi Federal said in a supplemental protest filed last month with the US Government Accountability Office.

USIS, a division of Altegrity Inc, which is majority owned by Providence Equity Partners, had no comment on the letter.

The USIS unit that was awarded the latest contract is separate from the unit that performs the background checks at issue in the Justice Department case.

One congressional aide said USIS had "cleaned house" after the initial problems were cited, but the recent cyber breach had fueled further troubling concerns about the company.

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