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August 31, 2015

After Navy Yard Shooting, Ayotte Calls for Hearing on Contractor Hiring

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire urged leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel to hold a hearing on federal contractor hiring practices at military installations, following a mass shooting Monday at Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard.

In a letter to Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., and ranking member Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Ayotte said senators should have a better understanding of hiring practices for contractors at military bases so that only qualified candidates who do not pose serious threats to personnel or national security become employed.

“In the wake of this tragedy, we must thoroughly review and fix deficiencies within existing federal contracting hiring practices that the alleged Washington Navy Yard gunman exposed and exploited to ensure the safety of the rest of our service family—servicemembers, civilian workers, and contractors, alike,” wrote Ayotte, who is a member of the panel. “It is with this in mind that I request a committee hearing as soon as possible to examine these important issues.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus Tuesday demanding further answers about the Navy’s management and oversight of contractor access to Naval installations. McCaskill cited a watchdog report released Tuesday that detailed deficiencies in an independent contractor’s execution of the Navy Commercial Access Control System and failure to properly screen contract employees before they were granted access to Naval installations.

“This program wasted money, allowed dozens of felons access to installations they should never have had, and utterly lacked competent oversight,” said McCaskill, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight and requested the inspector general review the contract after receiving a tip from a whistleblower in June 2012. “It’s clear that its existence constitutes an unnecessary danger to the Navy and its personnel and it should be discontinued immediately.”

Read both senators’ full letters:

From Ayotte:

Dear Chairman Carper and Ranking Member Coburn:

Like all Americans, I was deeply saddened by the tragic events at Washington Navy Yard on Monday. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims of these horrific crimes. In light of this tragedy, I write to request that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hold a hearing to address contracting hiring practices and security procedures at our nation’s military installations.

Media reports indicate that the alleged gunman at Washington Navy Yard, Aaron Alexis, was a former Navy Reservist and current contractor with a troubled past, including several incidents which reportedly came to the attention of law enforcement.

While any instance of lawbreaking by a servicemember or government contractor with a security clearance warrants scrutiny, this case is particularly disturbing given Alexis’s pattern of troubling behavior. In addition to multiple incidents with both civilian law enforcement and his military superiors, reports indicate that Alexis sought mental health assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

While we have yet to paint a full picture of Alexis’s past or the sequence of events leading up to and on the morning of September 16, 2013, we must move quickly to fully understand contracting hiring practices at military installations to ensure that federal contractors are qualified, fit to serve, and don’t pose a danger to the workforce, or our national security.

In the wake of this tragedy, we must thoroughly review and fix deficiencies within existing federal contracting hiring practices that the alleged Washington Navy Yard gunman exposed and exploited to ensure the safety of all servicemembers, civilian workers, and contractors.

It is with this in mind that I request a committee hearing as soon as possible to examine these important issues. Thank you for your consideration.

From McCaskill:

September 17, 2013

The Honorable Ray Mabus
Secretary of the Navy
U.S. Department of Defense
1200 Navy Pentagon
Washington, DC 20350-1200

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing regarding the Navy’s management and oversight of contractor access to Navy installations.

As you are aware, on September 16, 2013, at least twelve people were shot and killed at the Navy Yard complex in Washington, D.C. These killings were allegedly committed by Aaron Alexis, a Navy subcontractor employee with a history of misconduct, including previous arrests relating to the use of firearms. It appears that Mr. Alexis used his contractor access privileges to bring the weapons used in the killings into the Navy Yard complex.

On September 16, 2013, the same day, I received an advance copy of a report prepared by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General. This report, which assessed the Navy Commercial Access Control System (NCACS), was initiated following my referral of whistleblower allegations relating to problems with the Navy’s award and management of the contract for NCACS services. The contractor under the NCACS contract, Eid Passport, had the responsibility to perform background checks of the public record of any contractor employee voluntarily seeking recurring, unescorted access to any Navy installation. If the contractor employee failed the background check, the employee could submit a waiver request to the Navy installation commanding officer to see whether the Navy would accept the risk of granting access to the employee.

The Inspector General found that the Navy failed to adequately manage and oversee the contract. According to the Inspector General, the Navy’s failure to follow federal and Defense Department requirements and its failure to provide installations with the resources to conduct contractor background checks resulted in contractors receiving access to Navy installations before any background check was completed. In addition, the Navy accepted background checks conducted by Eid Passport which relied on inadequate and unreliable public records databases and failed to include certain government databases as required. The Inspector General found that these failures placed military and civilian personnel “at an unacceptable level of safety and security risk.” As a result, the Inspector General recommended that the Navy immediately discontinue its use of Eid Passport’s vetting system.

The Inspector General also found that the Navy was unable to account for the costs of NCACS and that the Navy may have paid more than $1.1 million in unallowable costs for the program. The Inspector General also found that the Navy improperly restricted contract competition and has been receiving services from Eid Passport without a valid contract since November 2011.

Yesterday’s tragic and senseless violence highlights the importance of complete, thorough background investigations of the contractors and subcontractors granted access to Navy installations. In light of these events, I am also deeply concerned by the Inspector General’s findings. I would like to request a briefing for Subcommittee staff relating to the Navy’s management and oversight of contractor access to Navy installations. This briefing should include detailed information relating to access for contractors under both NCACS and any alternative systems, including the Common Access Card. I request that this briefing take place on or before Friday, September 27, 2013.

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