USIS fires manager for pressuring employees to work overtime without pay


A view shows the United States Investigations Services (USIS) headquarters in Falls Church, Va. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The company accused of taking shortcuts in hundreds of thousands of security background checks recently fired a manager for pressuring employees to work overtime without pay, according to a company-wide e-mail.

The firing comes as USIS, which handles the bulk of background checks for government security clearances, faces a lawsuit from the Department of Justice and a whistleblower accusing it of “dumping” cases — or churning out incomplete background checks to hit revenue targets.

The incident also mirrors reports from former employees who have said the firm, which provided the background checks for National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, saddled them with impossible workloads and unrelenting deadlines.

“There was this intense pressure to do more, faster,” one former employee told The Washington Post last year.

In a company-wide e-mail obtained by The Post, USIS chief executive Sterling Phillips, who joined the company last year, said an employee contacted the company’s ethics hotline to report that a manager was pressuring employees to work overtime without pay.

The company launched an investigation that concluded the manager “left some employees with the impression that such conduct was acceptable,” which led to his firing, said the e-mail, which was sent Tuesday.

“We all work in an environment with deadlines, schedule pressures and the desire to be as productive and efficient as possible,” Phillips said in the e-mail. But he said that “no one in USIS, including me, has the authority to direct or pressure you into working unreported overtime.” And he urged employees who felt that they were being pressured to report any incidents.

In its complaint, the Justice Department alleged that USIS took shortcuts in at least 665,000 cases, which lawmakers have said created a national security threat.

“Flushed everything like a dead goldfish,” one USIS manager wrote in one of several e-mails cited in the court filing about how cases were being sped along to meet revenue targets.

A recent congressional report quoted a 2011 letter from the Office of Personnel Management to USIS asking how four investigators could have completed more than 13,000 reports — an average of 3,278 cases per employee — in the span of one week. A USIS official responded, saying the cases were “erroneously submitted” because of a problem with OPM’s systems.

The report also found that USIS received $16 million in incentive awards while it was allegedly rushing the background checks.

Since the accusations came to light, the company has hired a new management team and has said it enhanced oversight procedures. The company is tasked with doing background checks and does not grant security clearances, which is left to the government.

In a statement, the company said the firing “is an example of our zero tolerance for noncompliance among our 6,000-person team. Whenever we learn of potential noncompliance, we thoroughly investigate the issue and take appropriate action.”

In his e-mail to the staff, Phillips said, “Feeling ‘pressure’ is not an acceptable excuse or justification for violating the company’s time reporting policy or federal regulations.”

Christian Davenport covers federal contracting for The Post's Financial desk.
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