Here’s the full explanation of just how lax the Navy Yard’s access controls were

September 17, 2013
How the ID system worked for contractors. (Department of Defense Inspector General).
How the ID system worked for contractors. (Department of Defense Inspector General).

Yesterday, a federal official leaked some key information in a Department of Defense Inspector General report on how the Navy, in an attempt to cut costs, had let down its guard in vetting contractors for access to at least 10 military bases. This afternoon, the document went live online. While it appears that other, unrelated snafus allowed gunman Aaron Alexis to receive an ID card, it's also surprising that we haven't seen more tragedies because of the spotty background checks that resulted from the lapse.

Here's what happened in a nutshell: In 2010 through 2012, the Navy outsourced out its ID processes to an Oregon-based company called Eid Passport. They were in charge of performing contractor background checks using public records -- which weren't always "up to date, complete, accurate, or available" -- and issuing credentials through a system called Rapidgate. The Navy allowed those background checks to take the place of its standard vetting process for Department of Defense employees (which Alexis had already passed, since he had an up-to-date security clearance). Also, Eid Passport allowed personnel to receive passes for up to 28 days without being fully checked. Some installations said they didn't have the funding necessary to pay for access to essential systems like the National Crime Information Center or Terrorist Screening Database.

"Due to the unreliable accuracy of vetting contractors through the Rapidgate system, the claimed reductions in security risk provided installation commanders with a false sense of security, leaving installations exposed to potentially hostile actions," the report reads.

Here's how we know the background checks left something to be desired: 52 felons were granted ID cards for between 62 and 1,035 days. One of them had been convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

And here's the annoying thing about all of this: The program didn't even control costs. While Eid Passport was supposed to be charging contractors for each ID, it's likely that they just billed the cost to their contracts with the Navy. Eid Passport realized $53 million in annual revenue, much of which could be indirectly charged back to the Navy, which couldn't account for the program's total costs. Finally, the contract with Eid Passport was not properly bid out, and the Navy unit responsible for it "took extraordinary measures to ensure the program continued to operate without contracting authority."

It would be surprising if everyone involved in this one kept their jobs.

UPDATED to reflect new information about how the military and Alexis' employer missed signs of dangerous behavior in issuing him a security clearance.

DODIG-2013-134

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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