Remember when Al Gore and the Clinton Administration made everyone happy by "reinventing government" back in the '90s, on the principle that government functions would be more efficient if a third-party private intermediary were taking profits on them, because the invisible hand of the free market will always produce optimal results? The New York Times has an update on the operations of USIS, the company born in 1996 with the privatization of the Office of Personnel Management's investigative operations.
Where once upon a time, some unmotivated government bureaucrat might have loafed through the vast number of candidates for security clearances, USIS brought private-sector focus to its case files, which included those of Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis. The background investigators reportedly did find out that Alexis had been arrested in 2004, but never realized the arrest had been for an enraged shooting incident, because in lieu of getting the police report, they took Alexis's word it was no big deal.
In interviews this week, former and current USIS employees detailed how the company had an incentive to rush work because it is paid only after a file is marked “FF,” for fieldwork finished, and sent to the government. In the waning days of a month, investigations were closed to meet financial quotas, without a required review by the quality control department, two former senior managers said.
This practice was known as "flushing." The system of basing payment on how many files were declared finished, the Times reports, was "intended to give the company an incentive to be efficient."
A former senior USIS manager said the company “jumped the shark” when it introduced a computer system to oversee workflow. It assigned investigators a fresh case as soon as they filed an existing one, monitored how much time was spent on cases and imposed deadlines as short as two days. All the performance statistics were tied back to the company’s revenue targets.
The Office of Personnel Management's inspector general and a federal grand jury are both currently investigating USIS.
[Image via Getty]