USIS provided security-based information and service solutions to both government and corporate customers, in the United States and abroad. Its corporate headquarters were in Falls Church, in Greater Washington, D.C. USIS was a part of Altegrity Inc., a company headquartered in the Falls Church area that was owned by Providence Equity Partners.
USIS was founded in 1996 after the investigative branch of the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was privatized. Its creation was due to an effort of Vice President of the United States Al Gore's effort to reduce the size of the civil service. Originally known as U.S. Investigations Services Inc., it was at first an employee-owned company.
The Carlyle Group invested in USIS and in 2003 Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe also committed capital to them. In 2007, Carlyle announced that it would sell USIS to Providence Equity Partners, a private equity firm, for US$1.5 billion.
In the fiscal year 2012, USIS received $253 million for the contract work of the OPM, 67% of the OPM's contract spending for the fiscal year.
Aaron Alexis background check
In 2007, an OPM contract investigator employed by USIS conducted the field work for the OPM-FIS background investigation on Aaron Alexis, who has been accused of killing twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, September 16, 2013.
Edward Snowden investigation
In 2011, OPM contract investigators employed by USIS conducted the field work for the OPM security clearance re-investigation on Edward Snowden, who leaked classified documents beginning on June 5, 2013.
On June 18, 2013, the Subcommittee on Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce and the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, both of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, held a joint hearing. Michelle B. Schmitz, the OPM assistant inspector general for investigations, testified that USIS had been under investigation since late 2011, stating that it involves a "complicated contract fraud case." Patrick McFarland, the OPM inspector general, did not reveal the reason for the investigation of USIS, and said when asked about Snowden's security clearance re-investigation, "We do believe there may be some problems."
USIS response to accusations regarding Alexis and Snowden
In a September 8, 2014, media release, the company insisted that, despite being "the target of inaccurate and misleading public allegations," USIS is a responsible government contractor. It labeled as myth reports that USIS botched its field work for OPM background investigations on Aaron Alexis and Edward Snowden, calling the claim "absolutely false." The company asserted that "OPM confirmed in sworn testimony before Congress on February 11, 2014 that the investigative file compiled by USIS on Aaron Alexis 'was complete and in compliance with all investigative standards.'" USIS also said it followed all OPM-mandated procedures and protocols in its background investigation of Edward Snowden.
The company further clarified that it "does not grant security clearances and plays no role in making those determinations." The decision to grant or renew a clearance, said USIS, "is the sole responsibility of the federal government agency that requested the background investigation." However, the OPM hired USIS to perform not only background checks but also secondary reviews of those checks to ensure that no one who shouldn’t have access to state secrets was overlooked by mistake.
Fraud investigation and charges
In June 2013, the office of Senator Claire McCaskill stated that USIS was "under active criminal investigation". A statement from USIS stated that it was unaware that it was under criminal investigation. It added that "USIS complied with that subpoena and has cooperated fully with the government's civil investigative efforts". USIS, as the government's No. 1 provider of background checks for the United States, earned $253 million in awards this year alone.
On January 23, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice filed fraud charges against USIS. The suit was originally filed by a long time USIS employee, whistleblower Blake Percival. The suit, United States of America, ex rel Blake Percival vs USIS alleges that beginning in at least March 2008 and continuing through at least September 2012, USIS management devised and executed a scheme to deliberately circumvent contractually required quality reviews of reports of investigation of completed background investigations in order to increase the company's revenues and profits. USIS responded that the faulty checks "relate to a small group of individuals over a specific time period." In August 2015, Altegrity agreed to forgo $30 million in payments the U.S. government owed to USIS in order to settle the case with the Department of Justice.
On July 7, 2014, the company said it was hit by a cyber attack prompting the US government to suspend its work with the firm. Experts who have examined the hack "believe it has all the markings of a state-sponsored attack," but did not detail possible suspects. The investigation revealed that the hackers broke into USIS by pivoting from an SAP system managed by a third party.
OPM drops USIS
On September 9, 2014, the OPM confirmed it would not renew any of its contracts with USIS upon their expiration at month's end. USIS said it was "deeply disappointed with OPM's decision," which affects 3,000 employees handling a caseload that averaged about 21,000 background investigations a month for total fees of $320 million during the last fiscal year.
In early 2015, USIS's parent company, Altegrity (also known as Corporate Risk Holdings) filed for bankruptcy.
- Davenport, Christian (18 December 2015). "The whistleblower who exposed U.S.’s flawed security clearance system finally gets his reward". Washington Post. Montgomery, Alabama. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
- Taborek, Nick. "Al Gore Reinventions Helped Create USIS’s Outsourced Clearances." Bloomberg Businessweek. June 24, 2013.
- Adler, Neil. "Private equity firm to buy USIS for $1.5B." Washington Business Journal. May 11, 2007. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- "Same firm checked background of Navy Yard shooter, Snowden". Yahoo News. 20 September 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Waterman, Shaun (21 June 2013). "NSA leaker Ed Snowden’s clearance had ‘problems’; firm that vetted him under investigation". The Washington Times. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
- Davidson, Joe (20 June 2013). "Firm that did background check on Snowden is under investigation". Washington Post. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
- Lardner, Richard and Kimberley Dozier. "Watchdog faults background check of NSA leaker." Associated Press via Yahoo! News. June 20, 2013. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- Chris Strohm and Nick Taborek (8 July 2013). "Dead Among Those Interviewed in Faulty Background Checks". Bloomberg. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Tom Hamburger and Debbi Wilgoren (23 January 2014). "Justice Department says USIS submitted 665,000 incomplete background checks". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
- Julian Hattem. "Major DHS contractor hit by cyberattack". TheHill. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- "Homeland Security Contractor Breached". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- "First Example Of SAP Breach Surfaces". Dark Reading. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
- "CHINESE ATTACK ON USIS EXPLOITING SAP VULNERABILITY" (PDF).
- Davenport, Christian. "USIS contracts for federal background security checks won't be renewed." The Washington Post. September 9, 2014. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
- "Safeguarding our Nation's Secrets: Examining The Security Clearance Process." United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
- "USIS Announces Agreement to Be Acquired by Providence Equity Partners; New Growth Opportunities for Leading Pre-employment Screening and Security Services Firm." (Archive) The Carlyle Group. Thursday May 10, 2007.