Background Investigations Conducted by the United States Marshals Service

E&I Report No. I-2005-002
February 2005
Office of the Inspector General

Conclusion and Recommendations


An effective background investigation program reduces the risk that an agency will hire or retain unsuitable employees and contractors. To be effective, a program must have policies that provide direction on agency compliance with federal regulations and agency personnel security requirements and should consistently produce thorough and timely background investigations. In addition, a program must be supported by adequate data systems. By addressing the issues identified in this report, we believe that the USMS can better ensure that its background investigation program meets these basic goals.

Our review concluded that the USMS does not have adequate written policies and procedures to guide its background investigation program. The most recent USMS policy guidance -- issued in 1995 -- was incomplete, and the draft 2001 update was never completed. In addition, the USMS did not have detailed written procedures for the routine administration of its program.

The USMS databases for tracking and managing background investigations varied in quality. While the Judicial Security Division database for contract CSOs was adequate for monitoring the status of background investigations, the Human Resources Division databases for employees and non-CSO contractors were not sufficiently accurate or complete for monitoring purposes.

We found that although OPM and USMS deputy marshals were slow in completing field investigations of USMS employees and contractors, the USMS adjudicators in both the Human Resources Division and the Judicial Security Division generally met regulatory timelines. SEPS adjudications, however, of USMS political appointees, attorneys, and other designated personnel were not timely.

We found that adjudicators consistently addressed derogatory issues identified in the background investigation file, but the adjudicators were making decisions based on incomplete investigations. Neither OPM nor USMS investigators consistently provided all required interviews and documentation, and there was no written guidance on processing cases when the OPM or USMS investigation was incomplete or inadequate. Nor did the USMS collect the information necessary to provide OPM with evidence of inadequate investigations.

The process for hiring or retaining employees whom adjudicators have found unsuitable is not transparent. The Human Resources Division did not require field managers to provide written justifications when they wanted to hire or retain individuals despite adjudicators’ negative recommendations, so they were not held accountable when such an individual later engaged in misconduct.

While USMS policy requires that public trust employees who carry weapons and perform law enforcement or guard duties be routinely reinvestigated every five years, contract CSOs and other contractors who carry weapons and, in effect, perform law enforcement functions, are not routinely reinvestigated.


We make seven recommendations to help the USMS ensure that its background investigation program identifies applicants and employees who are not suitable for national security and public trust positions. The recommendations focus on revising policies and procedures, upgrading the databases that are used to manage background investigations, improving the thoroughness of adjudications, developing controls to monitor the background investigation process, and requiring that contractors fulfilling law enforcement duties be reinvestigated. We recommend that the USMS take the following actions:

  1. Revise and formally adopt written policies and procedures that address all aspects of the background investigation process to reflect current federal regulations and Department policy.

  2. Develop an adequate structure for the Human Resources Division database to ensure that essential data are not overwritten and to enable both the Human Resources Division and the Judicial Security Division to monitor compliance with regulations and Department policy.

  3. Implement procedures to routinely review the accuracy of the databases that the Human Resources Division and the Judicial Security Division use to manage the background investigation program.

  4. Require periodic written reviews on the efficiency and effectiveness of the background investigation program to determine if process improvements are needed.

  5. Develop guidelines for adjudicators that include instructions on how to proceed when an OPM investigation is incomplete and criteria for recommending security approvals and disapprovals that are consistent with OPM and Department policy.

  6. Require that the Chief of Human Resources Services fully document comments from field managers on an adjudicator’s recommendation regarding a security approval for an applicant or employee.

  7. Require reinvestigations every five years for contractors who are assigned law enforcement duties.