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Feds: Butler County firm that vetted Snowden 'flushed' 650,000 cases to clear backlog

| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 11:39 p.m.

Fraud had become so commonplace that local employees of a federal contractor apparently thought they had found a taxpayer-funded pot of gold.

Employees at the Butler County offices of U.S. Investigations Services “dumped” at least 665,000 background checks for the federal government by billing taxpayers even when the work was incomplete, the Justice Department alleges in a federal court filing this week.

“Tis Flushy McFlusherson at his merry highjinks again!!” the company's workload leader in Western Pennsylvania wrote in an email to bosses in suburban Washington.

Another time, around the holidays, the manager wrote: “Scalping tickets for ‘Dick Clark's Dumpin' New Year's Eve! … Who needs 2? Have a bit of a backlog building, but fortunately, most people are off this week so no one will notice!”

The Justice Department intervened in a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by a former USIS employee in Alabama, who claimed the dumping practices at the Western Pennsylvania office cheated taxpayers out of millions of dollars.

USIS conducted background checks on former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis, the accused Washington Navy Yard gunman, though the 25-page filing by the Justice Department mentions neither.

“Integrity and excellence are core values at USIS,” the company said in a statement in response to a Tribune-Review inquiry. “The alleged conduct referenced in the civil complaint is contrary to our values and commitment to exceptional service.”

The Justice Department filing said the practices were linked to a small group of eight senior managers identified only by title, not name. USIS's president/CEO established the internal revenue goals, and the chief financial officer determined how many cases needed to be reviewed or dumped to meet those goals.

Others identified included: vice president of field operations, president of the investigative service division, production support senior manager, director of national quality assurance, quality control manager in Western Pennsylvania and workload leader in Western Pennsylvania.

A USIS spokesman said the company replaced its top management, reinforced its processes and improved protocols.

Because USIS was paid fees ranging from $95 to $2,500 for every government job background investigation it completed and reviewed for quality controls, the company made more money by processing more cases. When employees at the Western Pennsylvania office could not keep up with projections, they started to “dump” or “flush” the cases they couldn't handle between March 2008 and September 2012, the Justice Department said.

At first, the employees were dumping a few files manually each day, but eventually they started using software to substantially increase the number. The workload leader in Western Pennsylvania coordinated with senior managers in the company's Falls Church, Va., office to set the number of cases to dump each day. The volume tended to increase significantly at the end of a month, quarter or year.

Most of the background checks involved less-complicated investigations, but they spanned employees and contractors at most government agencies, including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense and Treasury. Government officials were so convinced that USIS was doing a thorough job that they awarded the company $11 million in bonuses in three years, from 2008 to 2010.

Behind the scenes, the company's vice president of field operations wrote to other employees in an email: “We all own this baby, and right now we are holding one ugly baby.”

In response to that, the Western Pennsylvania workload leader advised that the company had only two options: Hire more people or continue dumping files.

“I don't know if there's any other levers left to flip other than dumping everything we know is bad,” the manager wrote in an email.

Doing that, the manager added, “will only make that ugly baby even uglier.”

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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