What affected security clearance policy and processes in 2016?  Learn all of the details in a month-by-month break-down of key security clearance events.

January

Establishment of NBIB—The White House announced that a new organization was being created to replace the Federal Investigative Services Division (FISD) of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  The National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) will be operationally controlled by the Performance Accountability Counsel (PAC) and under the administrative control of OPM.  Information technology support will be provided by the Department of Defense (DoD).

PSMO-I resumes processing SF86 submissions to OPM—The Defense Security Service (DSS) Personnel Security Management Office for Industry (PSMO-I) resumed processing investigation requests to OPM upon receiving full funding authorization for the Personnel Security Investigations (PSI) for Industry.  About 10,000 cases had backed up at PSMO-I with the oldest request dating back to mid-December 2015.  This was due to limited spending authority under a Continuing Resolution until the annual DoD budget was approved.  PMSO-I projected that by mid-April 2016 they would return to their normal 2-day processing time for new cases.

February

OPM Case Turnaround Stats—OPM provided an update on the timeliness of PSIs to DSS.  OPM investigation inventory was 464,800 cases with average investigation timelines of: 230 days for SSBI, 275 days for SSBI-PR, 204 days for Phased PR, 74 days for T3, and 75 days for T3R.  T3 and T3R are the investigation and reinvestigation required for Secret clearances.   These figures do not include case initiation and adjudication time.

DIA CAF Transfers to DoD CAF—The Deputy Secretary of Defense signed a February 10, 2016 Action Memo that directed the transfer the mission of the Defense Intelligence Agency Central Adjudication Facility to the DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility with an effective date of July 1, 2016.

New DSS Director—Mr. Dan Payne was selected as the new Director of the Defense Security Service (DSS). He was previously the Deputy Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC).

MARCH

NISPPAC Report—The report of the November 2015 National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee (NISPPAC) meeting was posted at the Information Security Oversight Office’s (ISOO) website.  During the meeting, the Director of OPM FISD reported that on November 16, 2015 FISD had 2,855K hours of investigative field work pending—three and one-half times their optimal pending field work of 800K hours.  The Director of DoD CAF reported a 36 percent reduction in their industrial caseload during FY2015 and a significant decline in average adjudication time.

NBIB Transition Team Leaders—OPM announced the appointments of James Onusko and Christy Wilder to serve as team leader and deputy manager of an interagency effort to establish the new National Background Investigations Bureau.

APRIL

Continued Backlog at DSS PSMO-I—Rather than clearing out its case backlog from January, PSMO-I’s case inventory grew to about 20,000.  Due to higher prices for investigations and increased demand for clearances, PSMO-I had to hold back some cases and meter its investigative requests to OPM.  This caused about a one month delay in the granting of interim clearances.

OPM Explores Cyber Vetting—A Nextgov article reported that OPM issued a Request For Information (RFI) to solicit capability statements for social media reports to identify security concerns on Subjects of background investigations for national security clearance.  OPM was interested in companies with fully automated capabilities to search for information on websites “to include those whose contents are not indexed by standard search engines” (the Deep Web) for a pilot project.

May

Cyber Vetting—The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued Security Executive Agent Directive 5 (SEAD 5), “Collection, Use, And Retention of Publicly Available Social Media Information in Personnel Security Background Investigations and Adjudications.”  This was preceded by the December 2015 enactment of the federal “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016,” which directed the use of relevant and appropriate information from social media and such other sources for security clearance eligibility determinations.  A news release issued on May 13, 2016, briefly explained the rationale and limitations of the new directive.  However, Acting OPM director Beth Cobert reportedly told The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee that “the official policy is still being finalized and was being coordinated with a request-for-information for a pilot program to automate social media searches.”  SEAD 5 (originally designated SEAD 300) was first identified in the 2nd Quarter FY2014 CAP Goal Progress Update and had a due date of December 2014.

Change 2 to NISPOM—New changes to the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM) became effective on May 18, 2016.  The most significant change was the requirement for cleared defense contractors to establish Insider Threat Programs.

June

Anticipated Temporary Suspension of Industry PRs—DSS announced that it anticipated having to temporarily suspend Periodic Reinvestigation (PR) requests for cleared contractor personnel from mid-June to 30 September, due to a funding shortfall in the FY2016 PSI for Industry program budget.  However, at the last moment DSS was able to obtain additional funding and continue processing PRs.  The additional funding was not sufficient to allow DSS to discontinue metering their investigative requests to OPM and clear out their case backlog.

Defense Information Systems for Security (DISS)—The Federal Register contained a 30 day notice for public comment regarding the new DISS.   Deployment of DISS will not occur until late 2nd Quarter or early 3rd Quarter FY2017.  The DISS Clearance Adjudication Tracking System (CATS) and Joint Verification System (JVS) will replace the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS).

NISPPAC Report—The report of the April 2016 NISPPAC meeting was posted at the ISOO website.  During the meeting, an OPM representative reported that it would take years before OPM could eliminate the case backlog.  Average end-to-end processing time for the fastest 90 percent of initial clearance investigations increased from 119 days in the 4th quarter of FY2015 to 135 days in the 1st quarter of FY2016.  Average end-to-end processing time for the fastest 90 percent of Top Secret clearance investigations increased from 221 to 246 days during the same period.  OPM and DoD had reportedly developed pilot models for collecting and using publicly available social media information for security clearance vetting.

ODNI Annual Security Clearance Report—The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued its FY2015 Annual Report on Security Clearance Determinations.  There was about a 6 percent decline in the total number of active personnel security clearances and an unquantified increase in clearance processing time from FY2014.

July

Total Cost of Security Clearances—ISOO issued its 2015 Annual Report to the President.  Executive Branch agencies reportedly spent $1.95B in FY2015 on Personnel Security Programs.  This was about 23 percent more than the $1.59B spent in FY2012.

DIA Explores Cyber Vetting—An ExecutiveBiz article reported that the Virginia Contracting Authority (VACA), acting for the Defense Intelligence Agency, issued a “Sources Sought” notice to solicit capability statements from qualified sources for social media reports to identify national security concerns on individuals who require a national security clearance.

Continued Metering of Investigative Requests—DSS reported that to stay within its budget for PSI for Industry, it had been (and will continue) metering the expenditure of PSI funds and maintaining a daily limit on the number of cases submitted to OPM; thus, causing a delay in processing case submissions to OPM, delaying interim clearance determinations, and increasing the case inventory at PSMO-I.

August

OPM Case Turnaround Stats—OPM provided an update on the timeliness of PSIs to DSS.  OPM average investigation time increased to 256 days for SSBI, 304 days for SSBI-PR, 230 days for Phased PR, 103 days for T3, and 86 days for T3R.

New Interim Clearance Standards for Industry—In early 2014 the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD-I) issued a memorandum establishing new minimum standards for interim Secret clearances.  DSS was granted a temporary waiver to these new standards.  On August 1, 2016, DSS implemented the new interim clearance standards and processes for contractor personnel.  The new standards will add about 7 days to the interim clearance process, which previously took about 2 days.  However, due to the case backlog at PSMO-I, interim clearance decisions were taking 2 to 3 months.  More information about the new standards is available in an article on interim clearances.

NSA Contractor Arrested—Harold Martin III was arrested on August 27, 2016 for allegedly stealing classified national security information from the National Security Agency.  Massive amounts of classified material were reportedly found at Martin’s Glen Burnie MD home.

FBI Employee Guilty of Being Foreign Agent—FBI Employee, Kun Shan Chun (aka: Joey Chun), pleaded guilty to acting as an agent of the Chinese government.  He had worked at the FBI’s New York field office as an electronics technician, and was granted a Top Secret security clearance in 1998.

September

OPM Hires New Investigative Contractors—OPM issued a total of 4 new contracts  for Investigation Service Providers: CACI Premier Technology, Inc.; CSRA LLC; Key Point Government Solutions (KGS), Inc.; and Securitas Critical Infrastructure Services, LLC.  CSRA and Securitas are new OPM contractors.  CACI and KGS had been the only contractors providing investigations to OPM since USIS lost their OPM contract in September 2014.

OPM Price Increases—OPM announced (FIN 16-06) price increases for FY2017 averaging about 19 percent over prices charged in FY2016 for their investigative products.  This followed significant price increases in FY2015 and FY2016.  Prices for OPM investigations have increased an average of 72 percent since FY2014.

NBIB Officially Stood Up—It was announced that the new National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) was being official stood up on October 1, 2016 and headed by Charles Phalen Jr.  Mr. Phalen was previously the Vice President of Corporate Security at Northrup Grumman and the director of Security for the CIA.  NBIB replaced and absorbed the existing mission, functions, and personnel of OPM’s Federal Investigative Services Division.

Congressional Report on OPM Data Breaches—The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released the report of its year-long investigation into how millions of OPM security records were compromised by a foreign adversary in 2015.

October

OPM Case Turnaround Stats—OPM provided an update on the timeliness of PSIs to DSS.  OPM average investigation time for their fastest 90 percent of SSBIs was 220 days and for their fastest 90 percent of T3 investigations was 108 days.

Tier 4 and Tier 5 Investigations—OPM implemented the new Tier 4 and Tier 5 Investigations, as well as their respective reinvestigations (Tier 4R and Tier 5R).  The Tier 4 replaced the Background Investigation for High Risk Public Trust positions, and the Tier 5 replaced the SSBI for Top Secret, Q, and SCI clearances.

November

New SF86 Mental Health Question—The DNI announced a change to the wording of the questions at Section 21 on the Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86—SF86) regarding mental health conditions and treatment.  The new Section 21 combines questions proposed by OPM and by the Defense Personnel and Security Research Center (PERSEREC).

New DIA Polygraph Policy—Effective January 1, 2017 counterintelligence scope polygraph exams will be required for all DIA contractor employees with access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).  Phased implementation of this policy will occur by regions over a period of about six months.

OPM IT Security—Significant differences appeared in OPM reports issued in November.  The OPM Inspector General report on the implementation of the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) stated, “There has been a significant regression in OPM’s compliance with FISMA requirements, as the agency failed to meet requirements that it had successfully met in prior years.”  OPM’s annual Agency Financial Report stated, “We are pleased to report that OPM made important advancements on a number of IT related priorities in FY 2016. . . .  We have taken significant steps to upgrade the security of our legacy systems and network perimeter.”

NISPPAC Report—The report of the June 2016 NISPPAC meeting was posted at the ISOO website.  According to an ODNI representative, 5 percent of individuals cleared for Top Secret or SCI will be vetted under the Government’s new Continuous Evaluation (CE) program beginning in September 2016.  CE involves automated record checks of commercial databases, U.S. Government databases, and/or other lawfully available information.  Average end-to-end processing time for the fastest 90 percent of all initial clearance investigations increased from 135 days in the 1st quarter to 207 days in the 2nd quarter of FY2016.  Average end-to-end processing time for the fastest 90 percent of initial Top Secret clearance investigations increased from 246 to 284 days during the same period.

December

Quarterly CAP Goal—The “Insider Threat and Security Clearance Reform” Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal quarterly progress update for the 4th Quarter FY2016 was released.  Prior quarterly updates for FY2016 were released in March, June, and September, all of which can be viewed at the Performance.gov website.  Due dates of many “Key Milestones” were repeated missed, some due dates changed without explanation, and some Key Milestones disappeared completely (e.g. new policies on Continuous Evaluation and on reciprocity).  Some of this sleight of hand was enabled by the re-baselining of goals so that they align with the new enterprise-wide focus as reported in the 3rd quarter progress update.  For example the new National Security Adjudicative Guidelines were initially identified as a CAP Goal in the update for the 2nd Quarter FY2014 with a due date of October 2015.  This goal was repeated reported to be “on track” until the 4th Quarter FY2015.  In the 3rd quarter FY2016 update this “priority” goal had its due date adjusted to December 2016, which also appears to have been missed.

Out-Of-Scope Investigations—The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD-I) issued a memorandum reminding DoD Components that personnel security clearances do not expire and that individuals with current eligibility in JPAS should not be denied access based on an out-of-scope investigation.  This memo is almost identical to a USD-I memo issued on July 31, 2006.  Once again some DoD agencies had been denying contractor employees access to defense facilities and classified information because their security clearances were based on an out-of-scope investigation.  Delays in processing investigations resulted in Periodic Reinvestigations being overdue.

 

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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.