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Personnel Security: Actions Needed to Strengthen the Background Investigation Process (OIG-A-18-09, September 20, 2018)

What OIG Did

The objective of this audit was to determine to what extent the Smithsonian ensures that required background investigations are conducted promptly on employees and certain affiliated individuals.

For this audit, OIG reviewed a sample of employees and a sample of affiliated individuals who joined the Smithsonian during 2015. OIG used the employee sample to evaluate if the required background investigations were scheduled promptly. OIG also used this sample to assess the offices of human resources’ position designation process, which determines the required level of post-employment background investigation. OIG used the affiliated individual sample to determine if those individuals had pre-employment background investigations.


The Smithsonian’s personnel security program helps ensure that about 6,700 employees and an estimated 12,000 affiliated individuals are honest, reliable, and trustworthy. The program requires the four human resources offices to work with OPS and other units. OPM conducts pre-employment and post-employment background investigations for the Smithsonian.

What OIG Found

Pre-employment background investigations assess the suitability of potential employees and affiliated individuals. OIG analysis showed that all sampled Smithsonian employees and affiliated individuals who were hired or joined the Smithsonian in 2015 received a pre-employment background investigation as required.

Post-employment background investigations are generally only for employees. The offices of human resources use a position designation process to determine the required level of this more in-depth investigation (low, moderate, or high). However, OIG found that the Smithsonian has no assurance that most of its employees hired in 2015 obtained the required level of background investigation. Due to incorrect designations and missing documentation, OIG could determine that only 35 percent of the sampled employees had received the required level of post-employment background investigation.

In addition, OIG found that the Office of Protection Services (OPS) did not always schedule or promptly schedule post-employment background investigations with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). For instance, OPS did not schedule post-employment background investigations for 12 percent of sampled employees.

OIG also found that the Smithsonian granted computer network access to more than 500 affiliated individuals, without background investigations, contrary to policy requirements. Furthermore, nearly a quarter were granted remote access. In addition, in accordance with its policy, the Smithsonian did not conduct background investigations on locally hired Panamanian employees at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

OIG also estimated that the Smithsonian could realize about $165,000 annually in savings if the Smithsonian Enterprises human resources office used OPM’s Automated Tool to establish the required post-employment background investigation for its retail employees. According to this tool, these employees would require a low-level background investigation in contrast to the moderate level they now receive. In 2016, the difference in cost between the low-level and moderate-level background investigations was $1,241. This potential annual savings is nearly one-third of the total amount the Smithsonian spent on all background investigations in fiscal year 2016.

What OIG Recommended

OIG made nine recommendations to improve the background investigation process, and management concurred with all nine recommendations.

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