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Congress approves bill to help strengthen government background checks

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill this week that would increase oversight into how the government conducts background investigations. The bill, H.R. 2860, the OPM IG Act (Office of Personnel Management Inspector General Act), will give the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) inspector general’s office access to new funding to conduct audits, investigations, and other oversight activities.

The bill was written by Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and co-sponsored by Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-MA), and passed unanimously. A nearly identical bill, the Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act, passed the Senate in October.

Both bills were written partly due to reports about inconsistencies and lack of thoroughness in the background checking process. They were also written partly due to questions about background checks resulting from some recent high profile cases, including that of Edward Snowden, who leaked a large number of classified government documents last summer.

The bill would provide oversight of the $2 billion OPM revolving fund that federal agencies pay into for human resources services, including conducting background checks.

“For many years, there have been increased referrals of alleged fraud within the revolving fund operations, including in the background investigations used to determine an individuals’ eligibility for a security clearance,” said Rep. Farenthold. “That’s a big problem with serious national security implications. Weak federal background checks have led to events like the Navy Yard shooting and the leaking of sensitive information by Edward Snowden.”

The SCORE Act was introduced by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Ron Johnson (R-WI). The House and Senate bills “will increase oversight and empower watchdogs to make our nation safer and our government more efficient,” said Sen. Tester after the House approved its version of the bill.

The four senators who introduced the legislation also wrote a letter to the General Accountability Office asking the auditors to recommend how agencies can better streamline security clearance investigations.

The OPM IG Act requires the OPM to budget up to one third of one percent of its budget for internal investigations and requires audits of this fund by the OPM’s Inspector General.

 

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