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OPM Announces -- Then Pulls Back -- Contract Award for Social Media Job Screening (UPDATED)

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Update: The Office of Personnel Management updated the solicitation June 17. The notice was “inadvertently cancelled” June 15, and the award to Social Intelligence is going forward, according to the new notice.

The Office of Personnel Management began taking a few first steps last week toward incorporating social media and other publicly available information about prospective hires into the traditional background check process. But less than a week a later, the agency has backtracked without explanation.

OPM, still dealing with a massive data breach that potentially compromised personal information from every federal employee, last week posted a notice stating its intent to award a sole-source contract to California-based tech company Social Intelligence.

The company, which also has offices in Washington and Western Pennsylvania, claims to be able to use social media and other publicly available information to compile reports detailing "whether an individual’s publicly available online data contains information that may be relevant for the security clearance or employment suitability process," according to its website. Social Intelligence relies on proprietary algorithms and analysts, the site said.

But on Monday, the solicitation was canceled, according to a notice on FedBizOpps.gov. OPM did not respond to requests for comment or clarification.

According to the original notice, the company was to participate in a pilot with OPM's Federal Investigative Services to provide 400 "publicly available electronic information reports" over six to nine months. OPM would then assess the value of these reports in the background investigation process.

Social Intelligence is the only company that has "expertise obtained through participation in other high-level" government pilot projects, the original posting stated. These other pilot projects include the U.S. Army, the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the State Department and the National Reconnaissance Office, according to the notice.

The intelligence community has run several pilot projects designed to test the effectiveness of social media monitoring, according to a Federal News Radio report last October. The government’s broader plans to improve the quality of background investigations by installing some form of “continuous evaluation” include the use of social media sources, according to publicly posted plans.

In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission dropped an investigation into Social Intelligence and whether it complied with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which regulates the use of consumer credit information. FTC later designated the company a consumer reporting agency -- the only social media screener with that designation as of January 2013, according to OPM.

OPM’s original notice said the company is only social media screener that has been given the designation by FTC of a credit-reporting agency.

Though he declined to comment on the OPM contract or other specific potential federal customers, Adam Lurie, Social Intelligence, Vice President of Government Solutions, told Nextgov that most government customers are interested in the company's pre-hire screening services. But he said he's recently noticed more government customers asking about using Social Intelligence's continuous evaluation services.

"There is increased interest," he said, but added, "how the government organizations get there -- there's still a lot of challenges."

(Image via antb/ Shutterstock.com)

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