“It is never wrong to do the right thing.” Whistleblower of the Week: Blake Percival

Blake Percival

Blake Percival knows what it is like to have it all and lose it. He knows what happens when you stand on your integrity and have to pay an enormous price. Percival believes in the strength of character, and he knows the difference between right and wrong. He knew the cost of becoming a whistleblower, and went ahead, told the truth, and blew the whistle.

Percival was born in Panama City, Florida, in 1966. His father was a civil servant and an officer in the U.S. reserves. His mother was a stay-at-home mother, and Percival was the youngest of five children. His upbringing was “a traditional Southern upbringing,” which incorporated strong religious beliefs. He met his current wife, Melanie, at age fourteen in 1980 and married her in 1988. Percival refers to his wife as his “soulmate” and feels blessed to have her alongside him.

Percival joined the United States Army and was honorably discharged in 1992. Over time, Percival took three different policemen postings in the South and eventually became a bailiff in the City of Montgomery Municipal Court. In 2000, Percival was a father to three children, ambitious, and on a quest to continually better himself and support his family. He applied to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Federal Investigations (USOPM-OFI) as a special investigator retained by the USOPM and employed by U.S. Investigations Services (USIS).

An act of Congress created USIS in 1996. Federal employees did background investigations for prospective federal employees, current federal employees, and individuals needing national security clearance. After 1966, USOPM was privatized in order to streamline and downsize the government. Percival received a job offer from USIS at the end of 2000 and said that he took to the job like a “fish to water.”

Background investigations begin with examining a candidate’s history, residences, education, and conducting interviews of friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. Criminal and credit checks are done, and investigations can become expansive. Background investigations are critical for employing the best possible candidates for a federal position and securing the proper clearance rating.

In January 2001, Percival reported to Pennsylvania for training and then returned to Alabama, when, nine months later, 9/11 occurred. USIS went from 750 investigators when Percival joined to over 2,500 investigators in the next few years. USIS had initially been an employee-owned company. The Carlyle Group invested in USIS, and in 2003, Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe committed capital to USIS. In 2007, Carlyle stated it would sell USIS to Providence Equity Partners, a private equity firm, for $1.5 billion. In one year, 2012, USIS received $253 million for contract work for OPM, 67% of OPM contract spending.

When Carlyle Group took over USIS, Percival noticed a change in management style. The new CEO of USIS wanted the culture changed to mimic more of a company-style business, not a federal agency. Percival stated he would not have originally joined USIS if that had been the culture at the outset. However, as a Team Leader, Percival moved to Wetumpka, Alabama, in 2005, with 25 investigators under his charge.

In April of 2007, Percival was promoted to District Manager and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. While in Minneapolis, Percival began to be noticed by senior management and created programs that saved money and time for the company. As a capable and ambitious man hoping to advance his career and take care of his family, Percival was offered and accepted the position as Director of Field Work Services (WPA). Percival stated that in January of 2011, he left Minneapolis for a “first-class lifestyle” in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

WPA existed to “connect the dots” in assembling and delivering completed reports of investigation (ROI) done by field agents, then providing them to the U.S. government. Reviewers at WPA would make sure the ROI was grammatically correct, and all the leads set out were “obtained or resolved.” If the reports were acceptable, the reviewer would release the ROI to OPM as complete. If not, the ROI was sent back to the investigator to resolve or finish.

Percival spent two weeks at WPA and realized that “support services,” a part of USIS, had been contracted by the government to review completed investigations for acceptability. Support services were part of USIS, checking on the work of USIS: thus, under the contract, a random sampling of three percent of ROIs went to support quality and thoroughness checking services. Any cases that were completed incorrectly would not be caught by OPM but rather by the company doing them in the first place.

Percival said that he instituted small group meetings upon his arrival, getting to know the staff and asking two questions. He asked, “What do you love about your job?” and “What do you hate about your job?” One employee answered, “I hate that we dump.” Percival questioned her answer, and she explained that they released cases to OPM that had not been reviewed to meet the deadline and get paid. Percival was shocked and told her not to “dump” anymore.

Percival stated that his background, morals, values, and ethics prepared him for the moment he found out about “dumping.” He feels strongly that a person should decide ahead of time what they believe, because when the time comes to act on one’s beliefs, if not prepared, someone else will do it for you.

Percival said that when he questioned the prior Director of WPA, he discovered he had known about dumping. Percival said the prior Director told him that “it needed to take place to meet USIS revenue goals.” Percival alleged that not only did former managers know about the dumping of ROIs without a quality check, but senior managers above Percival were also aware of the practice. Percival alleges that he was instructed to continue the dumping in order to meet OPM goals. Percival says he fielded calls from his superiors telling him to dump. But he worked with his staff to get the reports completed without dumping. He offered overtime, contests, and free food to staff in order to get the ROIs done correctly without dumping.

Percival stated that at no time did he consider playing along with the company in their dumping scheme, for the Bible verse, “For what shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul” reverberated within him. The executives within USIS allegedly perpetrated a fraud against the United States’ national security, and they will be known for that, as Percival will be known for being a whistleblower.

Percival stated that he ‘”did not have to do the fraud; I just had to look the other way.” In early May 2011, Percival was at the top of his game: an Executive in USIS, making a six-figure salary, driving an executive car. Still, after being told to ignore the fact that ROIs were being “dumped” to make OPM deadlines, a Vice President of USIS allegedly advised that since Percival would not play along, he had two options: go back to being an investigator or leave the company and take a severance package.

Percival decided he would take the severance package, and Human Resources (HR) came onto the scene immediately and took his phone, credentials, keys, and told him they would be in touch. He was escorted out of the building and felt a “sense of shame.” Percival called his wife; they cried together, and then he called the bank to see if the loan he had signed off on for a home mortgage could be rescinded. He felt like a “colossal failure.” That weekend, Percival and his wife packed up their possessions and prepared to leave town. First, they had to meet with the HR person who had a copy of the severance package.

As he perused the severance pay, Percival noticed that a nondisclosure agreement was included in the package, stating that he would agree not to not pursue a whistleblower claim. Percival spoke to an attorney who advised him not to sign anything.

Percival and his wife went back to Montgomery, Alabama. They moved into his mother’s house and realized they had lost everything. He had gone from a top rung on the executive ladder to his mother’s house. A month later, Percival found out that USIS had also fired his brother.

Percival went to the Beasley Allen law firm in Montgomery, Alabama, and discovered he had a “classic whistleblower retaliation” case. He had the documents on a flash drive that he said proved every claim he had made against USIS. But the main concern Percival had was getting the severance package that would provide him with $42,000. The lawyer advised him that if he took the money, it would be a credibility problem, so Percival declined the offer. Percival went from earning a six-figure income to nothing. In July of 2011, he filed a qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act, Blake Percival v. USIS. Qui tam lawsuits are filed under seal.

Percival filed two actions, a federal Qui Tam action, and a wrongful termination claim. In 2013, the government intervened in Percival’s Qui Tam whistleblower lawsuit and unsealed the lawsuit, and released Percival’s name. July 2013 was set for the claim’s resolution, but then Edward Snowden happened. The Snowden leaks were one of the biggest failures in the government’s security clearance program. Settlement talks were shelved, and Percival was struggling financially.

In September 2013, Aaron Alexis, who murdered twelve people in Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., was found to hold a valid security clearance. USIS processed Alexis during the time they were dumping background cases. Congress held hearings on Snowden and Alexis and USIS’s role in both cases.

In January of 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed their complaint against USIS, and a few months later, moved the qui tam case was moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Washington D.C. In February 2015, while still under investigation, USIS filed for bankruptcy. The DOJ advised that since USIS would cease to exist, Percival’s case would also not exist. At this point, Percival was able to prove that another company, Altegrity, was linked to USIS, therefore also culpable.

The qui tam case would be settled between the (DOJ) and USIS in August 2015. Percival would receive a percentage of the government’s recovery after his retaliation claim was resolved. The claims resolved by the settlement agreement are allegations only and there was no determination of liability. It was not until December of 2015 that the entire matter was resolved.

Percival stated that he felt disrespected by his government. He never received a “thank you” from anyone, and he thinks that he was mistreated because he embarrassed government agencies by revealing the dumping scheme. Percival was not happy that no one went to jail, but life is enjoyable since the case has ended.

Percival stated that God had a plan for him, and now, his story is part of history. In March 2020, he released a book detailing his story, Holding On To Integrity And Paying The Price A Whistleblower’s Story.

Percival founded The Whistleblower Assistance Fund, a non-profit aiming to help whistleblowers with financial needs during the legal process. He can be contacted through the Fund’s website and is available for speaking engagements. Follow him on social media via his Twitter account and Facebook page.

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