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Associated Press
An armed officer, who said he is with the Department of Defense, works near the gate at the Washington Navy Yard, which was closed to all but essential personnel Tuesday. On Monday, a gunman launched an attack spraying gunfire on office workers in the cafeteria and in the hallways at the heavily secured military installation.

Contractors’ vetting ‘sad’

Firm’s CEO unaware gunman at Navy Yard had brushes with law

Associated Press
Savannah Walker, right, hugs Alex James during a candlelight vigil in honor of Navy Yard victim Richard Michael Ridgell in Westminster, Md., on Tuesday.

– The owner of the company that employed Aaron Alexis, whom police have identified as the Navy Yard shooter, said he would not have hired the Fort Worth, Texas, computer technician if he had known about some of his brushes with the law, and he said the military should have shared more information with the company about Alexis’s history.

The complaints of Thomas Hoshko, chief executive officer of The Experts, come amid calls from several members of Congress, including the senator with lead federal oversight over Washington and federal employees, for a serious examination of how federal agencies and government contractors conduct background checks on potential hires.

A Defense Department report released Tuesday raised questions about whether the Navy had been properly conducting such checks on government contractors.

Hoshko said he was disturbed to learn from the Washington Post and other news outlets about police reports alleging that Alexis shot out a construction worker’s tire in Seattle in 2004 and fired a bullet through the ceiling of his Fort Worth apartment in 2010, barely missing his upstairs neighbor.

“If I can find this out just by doing a Google search, that is sad,” Hoshko said. “Anything that suggests criminal problems or mental health issues, that would be a flag. We would not have hired him.”

Alexis was working with The Experts on its subcontract with Hewlett-Packard to update and replace computers for Navy and Marine Corps installations.

The company confirmed Tuesday morning that Alexis had been working since July at six different installations – including Arlington, Va., Cherry Point, N.C., and Stafford, Va. He had worked for several days before the shooting at the Navy Yard. Alexis’s work at the sites was previously unknown.

Hoshko said he and other contracting firms rely on the military to approve the security clearances of their employees, and he fears that budget crunches have led to faster and less thorough checks. His company did not do its own background check but did conduct a new drug test, part of its standard procedure for updating security clearances and for new employees.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he plans to investigate “a number of things” in the coming weeks – especially how Alexis could have been employed by a federal contractor despite his arrest records and treatment for mental illness.

“What is the responsibility of our government and contractors to vet employees and from time to time reinvestigate those employees, if concerns arise about someone?” Carper asked. “What kind of clearance or clearances did this suspect possess? What kind of background check did he go in order to get his clearance? Were his clearances up to date? Is there some quality problem with the quality process of granting those clearances? And maybe a third one is what can we learn from this incident to help make this installation and other military installations and federal buildings safer, so that some good could come out of something that was awful?”

Carper received a briefing from top officials with the Department of Homeland Security at department headquarters Monday evening, but he said the information they shared resembled publicly available news reports.

Carper said he doesn’t know whether automatic federal budget cuts contributed to potential cutbacks in security at the Washington Navy Yard, but that his committee will also explore those concerns. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, a Democrat, suggested in interviews Tuesday morning that budget cuts might have contributed to cutbacks in security at the Navy Yard.

“If that’s the case, then that’s just one more reason why the Congress – Democrats and Republicans – and the president need to find a way to approve a common-sense budget plan that eliminates sequestration,” Carper said.

Asked whether the standards for government contractors are too lax, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, “Yes. I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes.”

Graham said that after massive leaks of secret documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and Monday’s shootings at the Navy Yard, several questions need to be answered about how contractors with certain clearances are vetted.

“Is it because we don’t have the resources, or is the system fundamentally broken? I don’t know, but all the things I’ve heard about the Navy Yard, that question looms the largest for me,” Graham said.

Capitol Hill staff familiar with the Defense Department report, which will be publicly released later Tuesday, said it is highly critical of the Navy program for cutting corners, even allowing several dozen convicted felons through the system. It is not known whether Alexis was vetted through this program.

The report, which was concluded before the Navy Yard shooting Monday, focuses on the Navy Commercial Access Control System, which provides security reviews for contractors whose employees need access to Navy installations, including the yard, according to staffers of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who chairs the subcommittee that reviews contracting for the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

McCaskill is sending questions to the Navy, asking about flaws in security system.