In his last week in office, and the same week he issued a pardon to Wikileaks’ Chelsea Manning, President Obama signed an executive order codifying his office’s recent efforts to reform the security clearance process.
The 23-page order revises the Office of Personnel Management’s responsibilities, clarifies suitability requirements, and reciprocity guidelines. It also clearly articulates the formation of the National Background Investigations Bureau and its role as the executive-office appointed to oversee the background investigations process. The order also highlights the need for cyber vetting and improved technology:
“The Government’s tools, systems, and processes for conducting these background investigations and managing sensitive investigative information should keep pace with technological advancements, regularly integrating current best practices to better anticipate, detect, and counter malicious activities, and threats posed by external or internal actors who may seek to do harm to the Government’s personnel, property, and information. To help fulfill these responsibilities, there shall be a primary executive branch investigative service provider whose mission is to provide effective, efficient, and secure background investigations for the Federal Government.”
Several terms make their way into the order, including ‘continuous performance improvement’ referring to improved technology in the background investigations process and evolving policy. ‘Continuous vetting’ is also defined as ‘reviewing the background of a covered individual at any time to determine whether that individual continues to meet applicable requirements.’
The order also establishes a Security, Suitability and Credentialing Performance Accountability Council. The existing Insider Threat and Security Clearance Reform Council currently asks as the major authority on security clearance reform efforts and progress, providing quarterly updates on the number of Department of Defense clearances and specific reform initiatives. But it also has a history of pushing back its own deadlines, changing or eliminating program requirements, or missing certain deadlines altogether.
The order paves the way for new Federal Investigative Standards. OPM is currently phasing out the Background Investigation, Periodic Reinvestigation, and Single Scope Background Investigation as it implements the new Tier 4, Tier 4R, Tier 5 and Tier 5R investigations.