The House gave a boost to the Office of Personnel Management inspector general’s office Tuesday, voting to provide the agency’s auditors with access to new funding to conduct investigations.
In a unanimous vote, the House approved the bipartisan OPM IG Act, introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and co-sponsored by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass).
The bill allows the IG’s office to access funds from OPM’s $2 billion revolving fund in order to conduct audits, investigations and other oversight activities.
The Senate approved a nearly identical measure — the Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act — introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), in October. The omnibus spending bill unveiled this week also contains a similar provision, but Farenthold and Lynch pointed out that it would expire after one year while their bill would be permanent.
IG blocked from revolving fund
OPM’s revolving fund is comprised of payments made to OPM by other agencies to conduct a host of services, including background investigations. However, the IG’s office is blocked from using any revolving fund money to finance its investigations, according to testimony OPM IG Patrick McFarland gave to Congress last summer.
McFarland testified that the IG office’s budget is about $3 million and that that’s not enough to root out waste and fraud in all the activities supported by the multibillion-dollar revolving fund. He told Congress he needs about $6.6 million to look into “serious problems” with the fund.
The House and Senate bills would limit additional funding for the IG to one-third of 1 percent of the total revolving fund, which is about what McFarland requested.
Concerns over background investigations
Concerns over inadequate oversight of OPM background investigations rose to prominence last year after it was revealed the same company, USIS, working under a contract with OPM performed investigations of both National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis.
McFarland’s office opened a criminal investigation and the Justice Department later joined a False Claims Act suit against the company alleging its employees routinely signed off on incomplete investigations and improperly billed the government for them.
The company has said it is cooperating with the government’s investigation and put in place new leadership and enhanced oversight since it first learned of the allegations.