Corners Cut in Outsourced Background Checks: A Case for the Public Sector

Yesterday, the Justice Department alleged in a court document that a government contractor that conducts background security investigations for the U.S. government committed fraud for more than four years on more than 650,000 investigations for personnel seeking clearance to access secret classified government information. The company, U.S. Investigations Services (USIS), has been accused of knowingly billing the government for about 40 percent of investigations it conducted during that period despite cutting corners, called “dumping” by the company.

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The Government is Now Closed…in More Ways Than One

The ludicrous and wasteful government shutdown can now claim another victim: government transparency. Several functions dedicated to providing information to the American public have been declared “non-essential” and are suspended during the lapse in appropriations. You might say that open government is now closed for business.

Here are some of the ways in which the shutdown is making it harder to know what government is doing (or at least, was doing before the shutdown):

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2013 Sunshine Week in Review

For the Center for Effective Government, this year's Sunshine Week was a busy and productive time. We released two new reports and participated in several panels and events that gave us an opportunity not only to share our expertise and findings, but also to exchange ideas with other members of the open government community, government officials, and the media.

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Celebrating Sunshine Week 2013

Sunshine Week, a nationwide initiative highlighting the importance of open government and accountability, will be held this year from March 10-16. Created by journalists in 2002, Sunshine Week is designed to educate people on their right to access public information in understandable, user-friendly formats to participate more effectively in democracy and to use such information to protect and improve their communities.

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Whistleblowers Saved the Government $3.3 Billion Last Year

Whistleblowers helped the federal government recover at least $3.3 billion in fiscal year 2012, a record high, according to a Dec. 4 announcement by the Justice Department.

The funds were recovered by whistleblower lawsuits under the False Claims Act. That law allows individuals to report fraud against the federal government – and, if their claims are proven, to receive a share of the money that is recovered.

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Senate Passes Amendments to Shed Light on Contractor Misbehavior

The Senate has approved several amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3254), which will bring greater transparency and accountability to federal contracting. The amendments, which OMB Watch endorsed, would strengthen whistleblower protections for federal contractors and grantees, modeled after the protections pioneered in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. 

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Whistleblower Protections Moving Forward

On Oct. 10, President Obama issued a groundbreaking directive that will lead to new protections for federal employees who report misconduct in the intelligence community, which includes agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The new policy, which has been a long-sought goal of the open government community, will guard whistleblowers against retaliation. The directive delivers on the administration's commitment under the Open Government Partnership to work to strengthen whistleblower protections, and many in the open government community applauded the new policy.

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Long Overdue Whistleblower Protections Finally Near?

While the vast majority of public servants are competent and well-intentioned, problems can crop up in government (as in any large organization). To address those problems, we need strong transparency and oversight, including the courage of public servants themselves to step forward and blow the whistle. But currently, federal employees with knowledge of misconduct are discouraged from reporting it due to a lack of protections and fear of retaliation, including being fired. A whistleblower protection bill that would change this could be up for a vote in the House and Senate later today or tomorrow: the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act‎ (WPEA, S. 743).

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The Ridenhour Awards: A Call to Truth

On April 25, several OMB Watch colleagues and I attended the 2012 Ridenhour Awards, which recognize Americans who engage in "acts of truth-telling to protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society." These individuals, speaking out against large and powerful forces, to expose the truth and protect Americans and social justice, changed history.

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NOAA Takes Lead on Protecting Scientific Integrity

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) efforts to protect scientific integrity make the agency a leader among its federal counterparts, OMB Watch said in comments filed last week.

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