Professionals from the security clearance industry and Pentagon insiders both agree that when the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) took over responsibility for processing background investigations, the quality of investigations suffered because priority was placed on speed and efficiency in getting the investigations completed. This is the latest topic of discussion in a Federal News Radio’s series on “Questioning Clearances.”
According to the article, OPM took over the process in 2004 and cleared a huge backlog of investigations and decreased investigation timeliness from an average of 143 days in 2005 to 36 days in 2012. However, detractors expressed concerns about the quality of the investigations amidst the rush to meet the timelines established by a 2004 law passed by Congress that required investigations be completed within 40 days.
Another concern identified in the article was the differences of opinion between investigators and adjudicators on whether investigations were complete or had missing information. As a former investigator myself, I understand the pressure to get the investigations closed by the assigned close date, and as a result, there are those who would not go the extra mile to close the loop on unresolved information. The result for an adjudicator, which I have also experienced, is an incomplete picture or there being unanswered questions that force the adjudicator into one of three actions: make a decision based on what you have; make additional inquires to obtain the information needed; or submit a request for OPM to re-open the case to obtain the information. Most agencies will bypass requesting OPM to re-open the case because of the onerous process and time involved, and will instead use their own assets to try and obtain the information needed.
Some experts are calling for DoD to be given back the control for conducting its own investigations, and even those of other agencies. OPM is opposed to this line of thinking, citing costs associated with setting up redundant processes and systems already in place, as well as increasing the time it takes to complete an investigation. The answer, in my opinion, lies somewhere in between, where a balance between quality and timeliness can be struck to ensure we have accurate and complete information on an individual before granting them a security clearance. With reforms for the investigation process and continuous evaluation already being worked by ODNI in collaboration with OPM, hopefully the final product will land in the middle.