It’s Fiscal New Year’s Eve, and as promised, the new National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) will swing open its doors tomorrow. Yes, on Saturday. Well, tomorrow’s the first official day of business. And not uncharacteristic of those government agencies under the gun, NBIB leaders may very well be behind their desks on Fiscal New Year’s Day, missing all the sales. NBIB kicked off the celebration by announcing its new leader, Charles S. Phalen, Jr.


About this time five years ago, Northrop Grumman Corporation announced that it had selected Charles Phalen to serve as its vice president, Corporate and Enterprise Shared Services (ESS) Industrial Security. In that role, Phalen was responsible for security across Northrop Grumman, to include policies, property, information, and employees’ security. Worldwide, Northrop Grumman employees over 65,000 people, has revenues well over $23 billion last year, assets over $24 billion, offices in nearly 30 countries and every state in the country. At the NBIB, Phalen will lead 3,000 federal employees, 5,500 contractors. Very manageable for a man like Phalen.

Phalen’s career well before Northrop Grumman is the most interesting. In fact, there’s been a Phalen man at the CIA since the mid-1950s. For the thirty years before his stint at Grumman, Charles Phalen Jr. was a CIA man, and he finished up serving as CIA’s Director of Security. Likewise, his father completed his 30-year career at the CIA in the department of security. Phalen Jr. told journalists during a phone conference, “’Personnel security has been in my blood . . . . The reality is it’s in my DNA. My dad spent 30 years at CIA, also at the office of security. He retired about 10 days before I came on board in 1981. . . . I think I learned a lot along the way.” And he’s apparently done quite well. But there are challenges ahead.


Backlogs have been the nemesis of a couple of customer-service-oriented government agencies over the last ten years. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, it was the Veterans’ claims backlog that peaked at 611,000 claims (now down to around 17,000). Thanks to some transformative initiatives in the Veterans Benefits Administration and the right leadership at the top, VA’s gotten that backlog under control.

Likewise, the Office of Personnel Management has struggled with a backlog of background investigations that have put a drag on hiring in much of the defense industry—government and contracted—that requires some level of security clearance. “Due to the backlog, it currently takes approximately 120 days for someone to get secret clearance and 170 days on average for top secret,” Federal Times’ Aaron Boyd reports. The backlog is currently somewhere in the neighborhood of 500,000. Hackers finally put a cyber-stake in the heart of OPM’s security clearance responsibilities. Thus, NBIB. According to US News’, “The bureau will be part of OPM, but the Defense Department will design and operate the computer system that houses and processes people’s personal information.”

Everyone’s anxious to see how this cross-agency effort will work. But with such a well-respected, obviously well-qualified NBIB head, NBIB should well hold its own against any DoD encroachments.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.