WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A year-long probe into a system for clearing vendors and similar support personnel onto U.S. Navy bases found significant security lapses that gave 52 convicted felons routine access to Navy facilities, the Defense Department inspector general said on Tuesday.
In an effort to cut costs, Navy officials failed to properly vet contractor employees through mandatory nationwide crime and terrorist databases, the inspector general's report said.
As a result, 52 convicted felons received routine, unauthorized access to Navy facilities, the report said. It said the unauthorized access had increased the security risk for military personnel, dependents, civilians and installations.
The report was dated September 16 - the same day Navy contractor and former Navy reservist Aaron Alexis, 34, went on a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 people before police killed him in a gun battle.
A Navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the service was evaluating the inspector general's criticism of the so-called NCACS access program. The NCACS access program allows vendors and support personnel to get into military facilities to work.
But he cautioned against drawing links with the Navy Yard shooting because Alexis had a higher-level clearance, the Common Access Card (CAC), which would have granted him basic access to most Navy installations.
"Alexis didn't have an NCACS card. He had a regular CAC card, which is different and administered through a different system," the official said. "You shouldn't draw a direct connection between the Defense Department inspector general's report and Alexis' access to the Navy Yard yesterday."
A congressional aide said a comparison between the security issues addressed in the report and those raised by the Navy Yard shooting "may be a little bit of apples and oranges."
But he said the report portrayed a service under pressure to reduce costs, and the effort to reduce spending could be relevant to the security issues raised by Monday's shooting rampage.
The Pentagon has been directed by the White House and Congress to reduce its planned spending by about $500 billion over the next decade. It is facing another $50 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts annually over the next decade.
The inspector general report said under the current system, people like vendors and restaurant workers could get NCACS cards for access to Navy facilities without being properly screened through national crime and terrorist databases.
Alexis was hired as a civilian information technology contractor to work on the Navy and Marine Corps intranet and was given a security clearance classified as "secret," his company's chief executive told Reuters.
He had been given clearance despite two gun-related brushes with the law and a discharge from the Navy Reserve in 2011 after a series of misconduct issues.
Asked when Alexis started work at the Navy Yard, Thomas Hoshko, chief executive of The Experts Inc, said: "He was there last week."
The Experts was serving as a subcontractor for HP Enterprise Services, part of Hewlett-Packard Co.
(Reporting by Deborah Charles and David Alexander; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Mohammad Zargham)