Justice obtains 27th guilty plea in background investigations ‘flushing’ case

More than four years after the Justice Department began investigating the “flushing of records” during background investigations, the government obtained yet another guilty plea.

DoJ announced Thursday Rose Gross, 62, a former background investigator who did work under contract for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), pleaded guilty to a charge stemming from her falsification of work on background investigations of federal employees and contractors.

U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu and Norbert E. Vint, Acting Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management, said the District Heights, Maryland resident made her plea in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to making a false statement.

Gross, who faces a statutory penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, will be sentenced on Oct. 22. DoJ says under federal sentencing guidelines she faces a range of 12 to 18 months in prison, and also has agreed to pay $189,042 in restitution to the federal government.

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Gross becomes another in more than two dozen former security clearance investigators working for USIS or Key Point Solutions to be punished for their actions. Justice began prosecuting workers at USIS and Key Point starting in 2014.

Back in 2014, Justice filed a civil complaint in the U.S. District Court in Alabama alleging that at least 665,000 background investigations weren’t properly reviewed. DoJ’s complaint alleged USIS, which has since been broken up and bought by other contractors, began “dumping” or “flushing” cases — transmitting cases to OPM and falsely representing them as completed — in 2008 to maximize the company’s revenues and profits. All told, 40 percent of the cases USIS submitted to OPM over a four-year period beginning in March 2008 were the result of “dumping,” according to DoJ.

USIS eventually settled a criminal investigation with the government by forgoing $30 million in fees owed by agencies.

Gross falsely claimed two dozen times that between April 2014 and February 2015 she had interviewed a source or reviewed a record regarding the person as part of the background investigation when in fact she did not.

Justice says the false representations by Gross required OPM to reopen and rework numerous background investigations that were assigned to her during that time period, at an estimated cost of at least $189,092 to the government.

“OPM has a robust integrity assurance program which utilizes a variety of methods to ensure the accuracy of reported information. The falsification of investigative case work by the defendant was detected through the program,” Justice states.

The flushing of cases and the massive data breach impacting more than 21.5 million current and former federal employees led to the decision to totally dismantle the security clearance approach.

The Trump administration announced in June that it would transfer the entire governmentwide security clearance portfolio, currently housed within OPM’s National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), to the Pentagon.

The Trump administration has long considered this transfer, particularly after Congress authorized the Defense Department to begin a three-year plan to resume responsibility for all defense-related investigative work.

DoD  would serve as the primary governmentwide security clearance provider, a responsibility OPM held since the Pentagon first gave up the program in 2005.

At the same time, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is leading a “clean slate” review of the entire security clearance process to help address the growing backlog.

The Government Accountability Office added security clearance reform to its High Risk List in January after deciding agencies needed to take action more quickly to fix the issues with the process.