Senate Homeland Security chair: Contractor vetting process needs review

September 17, 2013

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.). (Washington Post)

The senator with lead federal oversight over the District of Columbia and federal employees says the deadly shooting at the Washington Navy Yard should lead to a serious examination of how federal agencies and government contractors conduct background checks on potential hires.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he plans to investigate "a number of things" in the coming weeks -- especially how the gunman identified by police as Aaron Alexis could have been employed by a federal contractor despite his arrest record. Carper also alluded to news reports that Alexis was treated for mental illness.

"What is the responsibility of our government and contractors to vet employees and from time to time re-investigate those employees, if concerns arise about someone?" Carper asked. "What kind of clearance or clearances did this suspect possess? What kind of background check did he go in order to get his clearance? Were his clearances up to date? Is there some quality problem with the quality process of granting those clearances? And maybe a third one is what can we learn from this incident to help make this installation and other military installations and federal buildings safer, so that some good could come out of something that was awful?"

Carper received a briefing from top officials with the Department of Homeland Security at department headquarters Monday evening, but said the information they shared resembled publicly available news reports.

Carper said he doesn't know whether automatic federal budget cuts contributed to potential cutbacks in security at the Washington Navy Yard, but that his committee will also explore those concerns. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray (D) suggested in interviews Tuesday morning that budget cuts might have contributed to cutbacks in security at the Navy Yard.

"If that’s the case, then that’s just one more reason why the Congress – Democrats and Republicans – and the president need to find a way to approve a commonsense budget plan that eliminates sequestration," Carper said.

Echoing comments made Tuesday morning by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Carper also said he's also eager to learn how Alexis was able to purchase firearms if he had a history of mental illness.

"If he had problems, why was he able to buy a weapon? Was his mental state such that he should have been denied the ability to buy a weapon?" Carper asked. "We’ll find out those answers as we move forward."

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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Ed O'Keefe · September 17, 2013