Unpredictable Clearance Adjudication Process Frustrates Candidates and Recruiters

Security Clearance

Rumblings from the field indicate there is growing frustration with the unpredictability in how long it takes a national security case to be adjudicated. It seems some cases get done within days or weeks of the investigation getting closed, but then other cases languish in a black hole for months and even sometimes over a year. This is frustrating for clearance applicants who are trying to get a job, for facility security officers who are stuck in the middle between applicants and managers, and for recruiters who are trying to provide qualified candidates for job openings.

The DoD Consolidated Adjudication Facility (CAF) handles the adjudication on all military service members, military applicants, civilian employees, and consultants affiliated with the Department of Defense, to include the staff of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, the Congressional Budget Office, the United States Capitol Police, DoD personnel at the White House, and contractor personnel under the National Industrial Security Program (NISP). According to their website, the DoD CAF reviews and adjudicates over 850,000 cases annually.

So why does there seem to be such inconsistency and uncertainty in the length of time it takes for a clearance case to be adjudicated? Each case must be thoroughly reviewed and assessed on its own merits and depending on the complexity and issues involved, thus some will take longer than others. Cases are automatically assigned to an adjudicator once an initial OPM case file is sent to the DOD CAF. Auto assign is a computer generated “waitlist” system, and each case is distributed to adjudicators once a slot is available in their queue. No information on the number of adjudicators or their workload queue was available. The DoD CAF also uses an “e-Adjudicate” program which involves the electronic scanning of the completed investigations that have no or only minor issue codes and is used only for Secret clearances. I read somewhere a while back that 30% of cases were getting adjudicated this way, but that number has probably grown by now.

Adjudication CONSIDERATIONS

Here are some considerations that might affect the time it takes to get a case adjudicated:

– The DOD CAF consolidation in 2013 started with a huge backlog of cases; as of last quarter they had cleared 75% of the backlog, but they do not anticipate getting it totally cleared until the last quarter of 2016.

– When OPM shutdown processing new investigations last year due to the data breach it created a huge backlog of investigations (as of last November it was 384,000). OPM also had to redistribute a lot cases from contractor to Federal investigators. Like a dam opening its gates, the rush of new completed cases has overwhelmed many adjudication facilities.

– ODNI is still in the process of implementing business rules for “e-Adjudication” on the new Tier 3 type investigation that replaced the ANACI, MBI and NACLC for Secret clearances. Once they get that out to the field more cases can be e-adjudicated.

– OPM is hiring more investigators, but nowhere has it been noted about an increase in the number of adjudicators. Perhaps this is an issue, but I don’t really have enough information to make a guess.

Many challenges remain on the horizon, but it seems like most of the changes are regarding the investigation process itself. I think the adjudications portion of the security clearance process will work itself out and become more efficient once the construction dust settles in the other arenas.

Marko Hakamaa served in various military police positions with the United States Army worldwide for 22 years before retiring in 2006 as a Master Sergeant. Afterwards, he transitioned into the civilian workforce as a contractor background investigator for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) before entering civil service as a Security Specialist in 2009.