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Issa subpoenas OPM for information on background checks

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The head of a House oversight committee subpoenaed the Office of Personnel Management late last week for information about how the agency screens individuals for security clearances.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the panel, said he subpoenaed OPM because of the agency’s “continued refusal to produce relevant documents” to assist with an investigation the panel is conducting.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is examining how the federal government performs background checks in response to recent incidents involving two contractors who held security clearances.

Edward Snowden leaked sensitive information about the National Security Agency’s electronic-surveillance program in June, and Navy contractor Aaron Alexis killed a dozen people during a shooting spree at the Washington Navy Yard in September.

“The security clearances that both Snowden and Alexis received from the federal government enabled them to carry out their heinous acts,”  Issa said in a Nov. 20 letter to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, who started her job less than four weeks ago.

OPM oversees the background checks for federal security clearances, but the agency largely contracts that work to private firms. USIS, a company that screened both Snowden and Alexis, is under investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly misleading the government about the thoroughness of its reviews.

The oversight committee first sought information about OPM’s security-clearance processes in a bipartisan letter Oct. 9. Since then, Issa has sent three follow-up requests on his own, claiming the agency has failed to fully cooperate.

“It is crucial that Congress obtain complete access to the current policies, training materials and other guidelines currently in place,” Issa said in his Nov. 20 letter. “Using this information to complete a thorough review, Congress wil have a better understanding of how to fix the problem.”

OPM said in a statement on Monday: “We have already made these documents available to the Committee for review. We have received the subpoena and plan to respond as appropriate.”

The agency has allowed congressional investigators to view much of the requested information in person but has not handed over the records due to concerns about the documents being used “as a roadmap to falsifying case papers and interviews,” according to Issa.

Issa said the information his staff already viewed has shown that OPM issued “cavalier instructions” encouraging agency employees and contract workers to rush through vetting processes and “exert less than a full effort to obtain pertinent law enforcement records.”

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