WASHINGTON — Defense Finance and Accounting Service officials have terminated or indefinitely suspended 39 agency employees after they were found ineligible to meet the security requirements of their job.
The Defense Department conducted three separate reviews of the decision over the past 60 days, officials said, which showed security designations were appropriate, and that the employees were afforded ample opportunity to rectify their situation or appeal the determination.
“This decision is not taken lightly, because we do value our employees,” Kathleen Ott, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. “But in some of our positions that are sensitive positions, we need to make sure the people possess the traits that will enable them to best perform in that position.”
The decision was based on information gleaned from background checks conducted to ensure the employees were able to meet the security criteria of their positions. In 2005, all DFAS positions were classified, at a minimum, as “non-critical sensitive” due to employees’ access to sensitive information such as civilian, military and retiree pay data; Social Security numbers; and banking information.
The new classification called for a background check of agency employees, explained Terri McKay, DFAS director.
“Every single employee is subjected to this background check; that’s from [senior executive service] to GS-15 down to the lowest-graded positions within the agency,” McKay said. “It’s not limited to certain types of employees [or] certain types of positions.”
The majority of DFAS employees cleared the background check without an issue, McKay said. But for the 39 employees, the background checks for most revealed a long-term “pattern” of financial mishandling coupled with personal misconduct, she added. Only a few had solely financial issues.
The financial considerations, McKay pointed out, extended far beyond a late car payment or a less-than-desirable credit score.
“This action is not going to be the result of missing a house payment or car payment — isolated incidents where maybe they’re struggling a little bit” she said. “These are long-standing patterns of behavior.”
DFAS officials worked closely with the affected individuals to ensure all measures were taken before the final determination was made.
“We make every effort possible to let them explain mitigating factors that can impact the decision or to help them create a plan that would eliminate the adverse information or issues affecting their eligibility criteria,” Ott said.
DFAS provided employees assistance throughout the adjudication process, including financial counseling through the agency’s Personnel Security Office and its Civilian Employee Assistance Program. And all employees who requested an appeal extension to gather documents or other pertinent information were granted more time, Ott said.
DFAS officials are well aware of the decision’s effect, McKay said.
“It’s very important we understand the impact on individuals,” she said. “That’s why we work so hard to help employees change their behaviors and how they can mitigate these factors.”
But DFAS also has “a responsibility, a risk-based responsibility, to protect Privacy Act information and Department of Defense financial information,” she said. “So it’s a balance of understanding the impact on individuals and protecting information. This is servicemembers’ personal information.”
As a result of this incident, DFAS officials plan to beef up support systems for outgoing employees, such as outplacement services to help with resume-writing and interview skills. The agency also will enhance annual training on security requirements and emphasize the importance of personal responsibility in adhering to criteria, McKay said.
Additionally, DFAS officials will look for opportunities to expand the assistance they receive from their union partners, who have proved helpful in helping employees mitigate risk factors and leading employees to credit counseling, McKay said.
The agency will continue to offer financial counseling to its employees, as well as assistance with understanding job requirements and on what to do if employees fail to meet them, she added.
Speaking to the bigger picture, Ott said department officials will work to ensure the policy that designates sensitivity designation is clear, understood by all and consistently applied. They plan to add clarifying information to the policy, and will “double-check” to make sure security requirements are clear on job announcements, she said.
Officials also plan to standardize training on security requirements for incoming employees throughout the department, she added.
“We want to maintain our reputation as a model employer,” Ott said. “And from a more practical point of view, we put a lot of effort into hiring employees and training them, so once we have them trained, of course, we want to keep them. Should they have a slip-up, there are resources to help them: employee assistance and counseling.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)