Agencies Balk at Costly OPM Background Checks

April 1, 2012

For the Office of Personnel Management, handling background investigations for other agencies is a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise. As costs balloon, however, some agencies are asking whether they are getting a fair shake and are looking at other options.

From 2005 to 2011, the average cost per investigation rose from about $521 to $882, according to figures in a Government Accountability Office report released last week. The spike was particularly pronounced in 2010, when that cost jumped to $897, up from $576 in 2009.

Despite more use of automation and other money-saving steps to carry out the investigations, "OPM has failed to pass those cost savings to any of its customers," Thomas Ferguson, the Pentagon's principal deputy undersecretary for intelligence, wrote in the GAO report.

The Defense Department is by far OPM's largest customer: Last year, it paid $787 million for some 788,000 investigations. That accounted for almost three-quarters of the revenue received by OPM's Federal Investigative Services. 

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