Federal Times Blogs

OPM, background contractor on vetting of Navy Yard shooter

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Before he shot and killed 12 people in the Navy Yard rampage, Aaron Alexis had a string of arrests spanning years. That’s led many to wonder how he could’ve received and retained the security clearance that enabled him to enter the secure building in the first place. On Thursday, the company that performed the background check on Alexis in 2007 and the agency that oversaw the work issued separate statements in response to questions about the shooting. Here they are in their entirety:

“The security clearance process begins when an agency identifies a person who will require eligibility for access to classified information.  The scope of the investigation will vary, depending on the level of access required. As the risk to national security increases, so does the level of investigation.  The existing investigative standard for a Secret clearance is a National Agency Check with Law and Credit (NACLC).  The NACLC consists of a questionnaire completed by the person being investigated and checks of federal records, credit history records, and criminal history records. When OPM undertook the background investigation for Aaron Alexis in 2007, with support from a Government contractor, USIS, the appropriate federal records were obtained, and the required fieldwork was performed.    OPM has reviewed the 2007 background investigation file for Aaron Alexis, and the agency
believes that the file was complete and in compliance with all investigative standards.”

“Background investigations are conducted by OPM at the request of an agency and done in accordance with Executive Order 12968 and applicable investigative standards as a part of the overall security clearance process. Once the investigation is complete,
it is submitted to the adjudicating agency for review. Adjudication officials at the relevant agency evaluate the investigation and make the decision to grant or deny the security clearance. If the officials have any concerns with the investigation
once it is received, or would like additional information beyond that required by the standards, they have the opportunity to request that OPM perform further work before the agency makes its final decision.”

“OPM’s involvement with matters related to Aaron Alexis’ security clearance ended when we submitted the case to the Department of Defense (DoD) for adjudication in December 2007. DoD did not ask OPM for any additional investigative actions after it
received the completed background investigation.”

- Mert Miller, associate director for federal investigative services at OPM

“Today we were informed that in 2007, USIS conducted a background check of Aaron Alexis for OPM. We are contractually prohibited from retaining case information gathered as part of the background checks we conduct for OPM and therefore are unable to comment further on the nature or scope of this or any other background check.”

- Ray Howell, spokesman for USIS



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A background checker’s checkered past

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Ramon Davila is one name in a growing list.

He’s among the nearly two dozen federal background check investigators to face criminal charges in recent years for falsifying his work on investigations performed on contractors and employees seeking government clearances.

But more than year after charging Davila, the Justice Department only just learned that he had a troubling past that went unnoticed during his own background investigation.

It turns out, officials at another federal law enforcement agency decided nearly a decade ago to keep out of his personnel folder serious misconduct findings against Davila stemming from his years as a senior special agent with the Customs Service, records show. In return, Davila agreed to retire.

You can read the story of how Davila’s case fits into the growing backlog of federal background investigator falsification cases here. But for a closer, firsthand look at the misconduct findings against him and how such a settlement deal could have come about in the first place, check out the federal court filing.

Is this sort of exit deal in federal agencies unusual? Or more common than we think?

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Frankenstorm closes DC-area offices Monday

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With Hurricane Sandy barreling towards the East Coast, the Office of Personnel Management just announced that federal offices in the Washington area will be closed to the public Monday. That means that most employees will be granted an excused absence, unless they’re required to telework, on official travel outside of the DC area, on leave without pay, or on an alternative work schedule day off.

There are a few other categories of employees who won’t get the day off, however. Emergency employees are expected to show up for work tomorrow, unless they’re told otherwise by their bosses. And if you were already scheduled to telework tomorrow, you will still have to telework the whole day, or request leave (or a combination of the two).

Keep watching FedLine for more news as this Frankenstorm develops.

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GAO: Agencies rehire few retirees at full pay

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About three years ago, Congress granted agencies wide authority to rehire federal retirees and pay them both their full pensions as well as their full salaries. But the Government Accountability Office today released a report that found six federal agencies are barely using the so-called dual compensation waiver authority at all.

GAO looked at how many waivers were granted by the Treasury Department, Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Agency for International Development, Small Business Administration, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in fiscal 2010 and 2011. Those six agencies granted only 187 waivers in the first year, and 247 in the second year. That amounts to less than one thousandth of a percent of the more than 500,000 full-time employees at those agencies.

Treasury made the most use of the dual-comp waivers — 167 in 2010 and 214 in 2011 — mostly to hire former revenue agents to come back to the IRS and train younger agents. But the other five agencies only used them to rehire a handful of retirees each year, if at all.

Congress loosened the dual compensation requirements in October 2009 when it passed the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. Previously, agencies had to get OPM’s permission to rehire retirees at their full pay. But the five-year pilot program allows agencies to offer such waivers on their own, as long as the number of rehired retirees don’t exceed 2.5 percent of the agency’s full-time workforce. And if the ranks of rehired retirees at an agency exceeds 1 percent of the workforce, the law also requires that agency to send Congress a report explaining why they need so many.

But of the six agencies GAO surveyed — OPM could not provide reliable information on waiver use throughout the entire government — none even came close to those thresholds.

NRC said in a letter to GAO that even though it used the authority extremely rarely — once in 2011 and not at all in 2010 — it still found it very useful when hiring that key employee. NRC said it hopes the authority will be extended beyond its 2014 expiration date, despite its lack of use.

“NRC appreciates the [dual compensation] flexibility … in order to fulfill functions critical to the mission of the agency,” NRC wrote. “We therefore hope that the authority will be extended.”

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Government employing more people with disabilities

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The number of people with disabilities employed by the federal government increased 9 percent in fiscal 2011, according to a recent report from the Office of Personnel Management.

The government employed 187,313 people with disabilities in fiscal 2010, and 204,189 in 2011, the July 25 report said. That means the percentage of the federal workforce with disabilities increased from 10.7 percent to 11 percent.

“This is more people with disabilities in federal service both in real terms and by percentage than at any time in the past 20 years,” OPM Director John Berry said in the report’s foreword. “While we still have work to do, we remain committed to becoming a model for the employment of people with disabilities.”

The increase suggests that President Obama’s effort to increase federal job opportunities for people with disabilities is working. Obama issued an executive order in July 2010 that required agencies to increase their recruitment, hiring and retention of people with disabilities. All agencies have since finished action plans outlining how they are going to accomplish that mission. Also, more than 2,000 employees from at least 56 agencies have been trained on recruitment techniques, the proper hiring authority exceptions, how to accommodate them and how to help employees who become ill or injured on the job return to work.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the agency with the highest percentage — more than 18 percent — of employees with disabilities. The Defense Department, Veterans Affairs Department, Federal Reserve System and OPM are other leading agencies, the report said.

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OPM declares 11 am delayed opening for DC; freezing rain on the way

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The Washington area is expected to get hit by freezing rain this evening, and it’s going to mean a late start for federal employees Monday. The Office of Personnel Management this evening sent out a notice that said the government will open at 11 a.m. tomorrow, and told feds to stay off the roads until 9 a.m. Feds will be granted an excused absence for their delayed arrival tomorrow.

OPM is also giving feds the option to use unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework — but if you choose to telework, you have to start working at your normal time.

Emergency employees will have to show up on time, unless directed otherwise.

UPDATE 8 PM: The National Weather Service forecasts tonight’s freezing rain will result in accumulations of “a trace to less than a tenth of an inch.” NWS expects “light icing on roadways and elevated surfaces will make traveling hazardous,” not to mention slippery sidewalks. So it doesn’t sound like the end of the world, but we all know how these slippery roads can lead to trouble if drivers don’t use caution.

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OPM’s Zawodny to replace Zielinski as retirement chief

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The effort to tame the Office of Personnel Management’s struggling retirement system is about to lose its leader. Associate Director of Retirement Benefits Bill Zielinski will return to the Social Security Administration in September to become its next regional commissioner in San Francisco, Federal News Radio reported yesterday.

That’s not good news for the tens of thousands of recent federal retirees who aren’t getting their complete pension checks, and were looking to Zielinski to fix the perennial problem. OPM Director John Berry made it Zielinski’s top priority last fall, and Zielinski felt the agency was making progress. Zielinski last month said OPM would issue quicker, more accurate interim annuities by using the initial pension estimates retirees’ employing agencies. And OPM is moving to eliminate paper records in favor of electronic records, which he hopes will eventually allow faster, more accurate calculations.


OPM said that Kenneth Zawodny, who is currently deputy associate director of the Center for Operations at the agency’s Federal Investigative Services Division, will take Zielinski’s place. FISD handles background checks for the bulk of the federal government, and Zawodny is in charge of case management and field investigation programs, including international and counterintelligence investigations.

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Last day to post jobs on OPM’s Employer Services site

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The Office of Personnel Management’s outdated Employer Services website will be shuttered for good Oct. 1, and today is an important milestone toward that effort. July 1 is the last day to post or edit a job on USAJobs.gov using Employer Services.

Some federal agencies use USAJobs’ Employer Services site to post job announcements, review resumes and have limited communications with applicants. But OPM decided last June that Employer Services’ limited functionality couldn’t keep up with Director John Berry’s hiring reform efforts, and on March 4 officially announced they would scrap it. Specifically, OPM said Employer Services couldn’t be used to determine category rating — a major facet of hiring reform — nor could it determine veterans’ preference, produce certificates or maintain electronic case files.

Beginning next week, all agencies must use other Talent Acquisition Systems to post jobs. For most agencies, this won’t be a big deal, OPM says. More than 99 percent of departments and agencies have other, better staffing systems that can take Employer Services’ place. But the less than 1 percent that don’t are going to have to go shopping (if they haven’t already). OPM advises those departments to strike an inter-agency agreement with a larger agency to use their system to post jobs, hire a shared service center, or adopt a staffing tool provided by a contractor. The Interior Department’s National Business Center, General Services Administration, OPM itself, Avue Technologies, Monster Government Solutions, Oracle and Taleo are some of the organizations that offer suitable systems for agencies.

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Federal Times on the air

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Federal Times reporter Stephen Losey will appear on the TV show Capital Insider this evening to talk about the problems the Office of Personnel Management has had getting federal retirees their correct annuities.

If you’re in the Washington area, tune into channel 8 (which now goes by the name TBD) at 8 p.m.

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Bike share program for feds on the way

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This is not how it's done, by the way. You should probably wear a helmet.

Feds, are you itching to go for a bike ride? The government has just what you’re looking for.

The federal government has teamed up with the District of Columbia’s Capital Bikeshare program to provide employees easy access to bicycles in Washington and Arlington, Va. The Office of Personnel Management said the deal will eventually allow feds round-the-clock access to 1,000 bikes at 114 stations.

OPM hasn’t said yet what the government’s corporate partnership is going to mean in terms of group rates, or when the program will start, but we’ll post more details when they’re available. OPM Director John Berry has made wellness initiatives and encouraging federal employees to improve their health a priority, and this bikeshare program fits right in with that part of his agenda.

DC became the first jurisdiction in North America to launch its own bikeshare program in August 2008. It was expanded to Arlington in May. Members receive a key that will let them unlock any of the bikes, which they can ride them for up to 24 hours. (The first half-hour is free; after that riders will incur trip fees.)

In honor of the new arrangement (and the rainstorm that scuttled a photo op for it this morning), enjoy this scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

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