It was a busy year in security clearance news, as the following highlights can attest. Read on for a month-by-month breakdown of significant events in the security clearance process.

January

OPM announced the roll-out of the New SF86—The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that in February they will begin a phased implementation of the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) version of the new Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86—SF86) that was approved by the Office of Management and Budget in March 2010. The last version (July 2008) of the SF86 was phased in over a period of about 5 months from September 2008 to January 2009. DOD contractor personnel were among the last to begin using the form.

Cybervetting—The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) released a report on their yearlong study of police cybervetting policy, “Developing a Cybervetting Strategy for Law Enforcement.” The report was a collaborative effort by the IACP and the Defense Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC). PERSEREC produced a separate report, “Developing a Cybervetting Strategy for National Security Positions,” in part from the same study, but it will not be available to the public.

NASA v. Nelson—The Supreme Court of the United States published its 8-0 decision regarding “NASA v. Nelson.” It reversed and remanded the decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to grant a preliminary injunction against NASA enforcement of Personal Identity Verification (PIV) credentialing required under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 for contractor personnel who occupy non-sensitive, low-risk positions. 28 contractors working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory filed suit against the U.S. Government claiming that the National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI) investigation used to determine eligibility for PIV credentialing violated their right to “informational privacy.” A U.S. District Court initially denied their request for a preliminary injunction, but the injunction was later granted by the 9th Circuit Court.

February

GAO Issues Update to High Risk Programs—In its biannual report (GAO-11-278) to Congress on Government High Risk programs, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported removal of The Department of Defense (DOD) Personnel Security Program from its list of High Risk Programs, because of improvements to the program since it was first placed on the list in 2005.

Improvements to the DOD Personnel Security Process—DOD announced improvements to its personnel security clearance process. “Over the past four years, the DoD has worked with the Director of National Intelligence, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Personnel Management to streamline processes, make changes to policies, introduce extensive information technology improvements, and eliminate a backlog of approximately 100,000 pending cases. These improvements led to a 72 percent reduction in the time it takes to process an individual’s security clearance – from an average of 165 days in 2006 to 47 days today.”

March

Annual Report on PSI-I and the NISP—DOD released its “Annual Report to Congress on Personnel Security Investigations for Industry and the National Industrial Security Program” for fiscal year 2010. Produced by the Defense Security Service (DSS), it’s one of the more useful periodic reports containing data on security clearance processing and the only report that provides information about interim clearances. The report showed that the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) lost ground in FY2010. DISCO started the year with 9,596 cases pending and ended the year with 17,936 cases pending, even though it opened 5,687 fewer cases than it did in the previous year and granted 5,900 Secret clearances using eAdjudication. According to the report, operational productivity declined due to personnel problems related to the scheduled relocation of DISCO from Columbus, OH to Fort Meade, MD by August 2011.

NISPPAC Report—The National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee (NISPPAC) is made up of representatives from Government and industry and meets two to three times a year. Meetings usually include presentations by DSS and OPM on industrial security clearance processing metrics. The March meeting also included a presentation by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on the activities of the Joint Suitability and Security Clearance Reform Team. Overall the report of their March 2011 meeting contained no surprises, but some interesting trends and anomalies were apparent. Since last year end-to-end processing time for Top Secret (TS) Periodic Reinvestigations (PR) increased, but DISCO’s inventory of TSPRs pending adjudication dropped from a high of 4,372 in September 2010 to 266 in February 2011. DSS officials could provide no explanation. In an interesting comment on eAdjudication, the Director of DSS stated that the eAdjudication process at other DOD Central Adjudication Facilities handles 28% to 34% of investigations for Secret clearances; whereas, only 4% of DISCO Secret clearances are adjudicated electronically.

April

BRAC Impact on Security Clearance Adjudication—Under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, 10 DOD Central Adjudication Facilities (CAFs) began moving from their current locations to a newly constructed building at Fort Meade, MD. To varying degrees BRAC will cause most of the CAFs to experience higher than normal personnel attrition rates this year. This could in turn increase the average amount of time it takes to adjudicate a security clearance. Two of the affected agencies, DISCO and DOHA, will be moving from Columbus, OH. These two agencies have already lost a large number of personnel and anticipate losing more people by the time all of the agencies are required to complete the move in September 2011. DSS has taken steps to reduce the backlog that will be created by the move and by the loss of experienced adjudicators. The other DOD CAFs will be less affected by the move due to their current proximity to Fort Meade.

May

DSS Stakeholders Report 2011—DSS released its “Stakeholder Report 2011,” summarizing its history and mission and detailing its recent achievements and notable cases. The report includes some statistical data for fiscal year 2010. Of interest to most cleared contractor personnel is a brief explanation of “Incident Reports” and how they are handled by DISCO. An Incident Report is submitted whenever a company Facility Security Officer becomes aware of adverse information concerning a cleared employee. “DISCO receives about 8,000 incident reports a year and typically recommends about 120 interim suspensions a year to the DSS Director.”

June

DSS Guide to New SF86—DSS posted “A Quick Reference Guide for the Newly Updated Standard Form 86” (QRG). “This QRG contains detailed field descriptions, step-by-step instructions, and a link to a printable form to help you determine what information you need to gather.” The QRG provides 15 pages of detailed instructions for completing the SF86—much more comprehensive than anything previously published by DSS or OPM.

NISPPAC Report—The report of the June 2011 NISPPAC meeting included statistics on industrial security clearance processing. Average end-to-end elapse time for initial Top Secret and all Secret/Confidential clearances was 92 days in March 2011—slightly higher than the preceding 10 months. Adjudication time decreased, but investigation time increased. The inventories of both initial clearance investigations and periodic reinvestigations at DISCO have declined since the October 2010, and there has been a steady state for the inventory of industry cases at OPM. Case rejection rate for inaccurate/incomplete SF86s at DISCO remained in the 9% to 11% range and resulted in a 15 to 30 day processing delay. Case rejection rate at OPM has been about 5% and can add as much as 6 months to clearance processing time.

August

DSS Deployment of New SF86—DSS announced that effective on August 29, 2011 as part of a Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS) release update (version 4.3.0.0), the new 2010 SF86 will be available for use by federal contractors using JPAS. A new “Fair Credit Release” form will be required as part of the SF86.

September

Federal Investigations Notices—OPM posted 4 new Federal Investigations Notices (FIN) on their website, all dated August 29, 2011:

  • FIN 11-04—“Continuous Efforts to Align with Reciprocity Goals and Timeliness Standards.” This FIN fully implements interim adjustments made to National Investigative Standards by a August 2010 joint memorandum issued by OPM and ODNI.
  • FIN 11-05—“Investigations Reimbursable Billing Rates for FY 2012.” With one exception prices for standard OPM investigative products did not increase from FY 2011. OPM stated that “For FY 2012, we intended to apply an across the board ESI cost to all national security NACLC and ANACI investigation prices. We are deferring this pricing change, however, to permit us to use FY 2012 data to assess the rate at which issues are triggered on investigations submitted on the revised SF86.”  Prices for NACLC and ANACI should only increase a percentage of the current price of $550 for an ESI, based on the percentage of investigations that require an ESI.
  • FIN 11-06—“Special Agreement Price Schedule.” A few Special Agreement Checks (SAC) were increased by $2 and the others remained unchanged from FY 2011 prices.
  • FIN 11-07—“Discontinuing the 2008 Standard Form (SF) 86; Implementing the Fully Electronic 2010 SF 86.” Both the paper and e-QIP versions of the 2008 SF86 will become obsolete on October 1, 2011 and will no longer be accepted by OPM. Additionally OPM will no longer accept paper copies of SF86s; however, a special process was created to enable Third Party Data Entry (3PDE) where applicants are unable to directly enter into e-QIP themselves. A “Fillable/Printable” PDF version of the 2010 SF86 will be posted to the OPM forms webpage by October 1, 2011.

ODNI Annual Report to Congress—ODNI issued its first annual “Report on Security Clearance Determinations” to Congress. More than 4.2 million people held security clearances for access to classified information in FY2010. Although the report failed to provide data on several metrics required by Section 367 of the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, it gave a clearer picture of the cleared community and a different way of looking at the length of time it takes to get a security clearance. In FY2010 642,831 security clearances were granted. OPM, which reportedly conducts 90% of all security clearance investigations, “provided data for FY 2010 that it had available on 34,029 security clearance determinations across the Federal Government that took longer than one year. . . .” This suggests that about 5.9% of all cases took over 1 year. Also of interest was the 7% clearance denial rate reported by the National Security Agency. (For comparison FY2010 denial rates at the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals, Department of Navy, and Department of Air Force ranged from 0.6% to 1.3%, and the denial rate at Department of Army was about 6%.)

October

“No Determination Made”—Numerous defense contractor employees in the greater Tidewater area of Virginia were fired from their jobs, because the Department of Navy Central Adjudication (DONCAF) annotated their national security background investigation files with the notation, “No Determination Made.” The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported the plight of a number of former contractors who were summarily fired without being informed of why they failed to receive a favorable security determination and were denied any right to appeal the Navy’s decision. The same problems have affected Navy contractor employees at Fort Detrick, MD and San Diego, CA. The common denominator appeared to be the Naval Supply Systems Command in San Diego and their improper processing of personnel security investigations.

November

Periodic Reinvestigations for Public Trust Positions—On November 9, 2011 OPM published its final rule on changes to Title 5 Code of Federal Regulations Part 731 (5 CFR 731), “Suitability.”  The new rule, scheduled to go into effect on December 9, 2011, added a requirement to conduct Periodic Reinvestigations (PRs) on all “covered” Public Trust (PT) positions at 5-year intervals. A covered position is defined as “a position in the competitive service, a position in the excepted service where the incumbent can be noncompetitively converted to the competitive service, and a career appointment to a position in the Senior Executive Service.” (OPM recommends that “non-covered” positions also be designed as high, moderate, or low risk positions in the same manner as covered positions and that provisions of 5 CFR Part 731 apply to them.)

NISPPAC Report—The November NISPPAC meeting reported an improvement in the end-to-end processing time for industrial security clearances from 4th quarter FY2010 to 3rd quarter FY2011 with significant improvement in the processing of TSPRs. OPM reduced the time requirement for receiving fingerprints from 30 days to 14 days for DOD cases. Other agencies were already required to submit fingerprints within 14 days of submitting a request for investigation. The only except was for overseas applicants. Concerns were express about the possible increase in the case rejection rate at OPM. DISCO case rejection adds 25 to 30 days to a case; whereas, OPM case rejection adds 60 days to a case. Also discussed was the planned issuance of new policy on criteria for conducting Phased Periodic Reinvestigations (PPR) versus Single Scope Background Investigations—Periodic Reinvestigations (SSBI-PRs).

December

INSA White Paper on Security Reform—The Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) issued a white paper titled, “Next Steps for Security Reform.” Most of the recommendations in the white paper were focused on the Intelligence Community and their handling of personnel clearances, their contracting practices, and their SCIF requirements. There were broader recommendations to promote a level playing field where smaller companies can compete on classified contracts and to rationalize employment suitability/fitness criteria and processing for positions that also require a security clearance. Although average clearance processing time has decreased significantly during the past 6 years; the paper stated that, “Conservative estimates suggest that, at any given point in time, 10 to 20 percent of contractors being paid for by the government are not on the job because of delays associated with security clearances and related policies. These lost man-hours represent billions in taxpayer dollars. Even modest improvements in efficiency could save hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”

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William H. Henderson is a retired federal clearance investigator, President of Federal Clearance Assistance Service (FEDCAS), author of Security Clearance Manual, Issue Mitigation Handbook, and a regular contributor to ClearanceJobsBlog.com and ClearanceJobs.com.