Before getting into that, let’s deal with the intersection of last week’s big news regarding background security investigations and this week’s big news, the looming partial government shutdown. If some federal offices close next month because Congress has not approved temporary funding, will background investigations shut down, too?
The investigations “are funded through a revolving fund account, which would not be subject to a government shutdown due to a lapse in appropriation,” according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Returning to the question of conducting the investigations, should that continue to be done by private companies, with their obligation to make money, or federal employees, whose obligation is to serve the people and their government? The background investigations provide the information that agencies need to determine who gets security clearances to work on military bases and in other sensitive government facilities.
For the largest government employee union, long wary of contractors doing the government’s work, the answer is clear.
“We do believe that standards for security clearances for contractors need to be changed, and that most government work that involves security clearances should be performed by federal employees, not contractors,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). “In addition, we believe that access to government facilities for contractors should be severely restrained.”
Stan Soloway, president and chief executive of the Professional Services Council, which represents contractors, doesn’t buy that argument.
“Whether the investigations are conducted internally or externally, they are subject to the same quality controls and requirements,” he said. “Should we assess the quality of oversight of background checks performed, be it by government or contractor personnel? Absolutely. But to suggest there are more issues or risks with one community versus the other is fundamentally contrary to the facts and is more a matter of convenience than substance.”