- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2014

The fate of a border security contract worth up to $210 million was thrown into question Monday after the Government Accountability Office told an agency to reconsider whether a contractor facing fraud accusations is qualified for the job.

The GAO said the Homeland Security Department should take another look before deciding whether contractor USIS is “presently responsible” enough to receive a field services contract at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The ruling opens the door for a competing contractor, FCi Federal, which had protested the award to USIS. The company argued that the Department of Homeland Security awarded the contract without considering a pending Justice Department civil complaint against USIS.

The GAO ruling highlighted a portion of federal procurement law that says contractors must be “presently responsible” to get hired. In layman’s terms, that means contracting officers must attest to the fact that companies have the integrity, manpower and finances to complete the contract.

The Justice Department has accused USIS of cheating the government out of millions of dollars through a practice called “dumping,” in which the company purportedly claimed it completed background investigations that remained unfinished from 2008 to 2010.

But USIS has said it has new leadership and has beefed up oversight at the company. It said the accusations involved a “small group of individuals” who are no longer with USIS. The company also said the Homeland Security contract went to USIS’ professional services division, which is separate from the background check operation.

The GAO didn’t take a position on whether either company should get the contract, but Ralph O. White, managing associate general counsel for the GAO, said Homeland Security officials could give the contract to FCi if they determine USIS isn’t capable of fulfilling it.

Sharon Virts, chief executive of FCi, said in a statement Monday that the GAO ruling “is the right one and is in the best interest of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and American taxpayers.”

USIS released a statement saying the GAO ruling “flies in the face of outstanding ratings” awarded to the company’s professional services division by DHS. The company said it will appeal the decision.

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