The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) National Background Investigation System (NBIS) has a vision of the future of security clearance background checks. And it’s impressive. Want a peek? Take a look at DISA’s Request for Information (PL83240005) for “a new background investigation system [that] . . . . replace[s] the system breached in July 2015.”


DISA’s vision supports about every aspect of background investigation requirements for the new NBIB. It will attend to all tiers of investigation. It will give subjects of background checks access necessary to self-report information to the system. It is a system of continuous evaluation, so as information is added by NBIB, OPM, DoD, or you, the suitability of your background for a particularly clearance will evolve, be checked, and rechecked, perpetually, which answers a big security risk associated with static checks. Reports will be customizable. And the capacity and output will naturally comply with applicable federal laws like the Freedom of Information Act (so the information will be searchable for FOIA purposes), the Privacy Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and others.


A beautiful aspect of DISA’s vision is the expectation that the NBIB system will harness the best technology available. The new system may be a product of Research & Development (R&D) ingenuity and, may be a product of the more and more attractive Commercial Off the Shelf technology (COTS) approach. DISA’s wide open to either, both, or a crazy mix of the two. They simply want the best outcome possible from the best technology available. The Request For Information (RFI) reads, “DISA envisions the NBIS to be system of systems software solution created from a complex portfolio of components. These envisioned components include a mix of government owned solutions (GOTS), modified GOTS, customized and modified Commercial off the shelf (COTS) solutions, and potentially new software components.”

Will that be tough? DISA believes it will be. In fact, the requested information will offer both “industry partners’ capability to provide architecture design, application development, and integration services for a vast portfolio of applications” as well as how “to make the NBIS development & integration process efficient and effective.” So DISA’s up front: they don’t know all the answers to this problem. But they want to advance on the proposition with eyes wide open.


With such big ideals, the new system might be a solution to the current background investigation backlog. According to the Federal Times’ Carten Cordell, the system should be able to “handle between 2 million and 3 million inquiries a year.” Further, DISA’s not waiting around. They have a timeline to meet. Meeting the September 2018 IOC and September 2019 FOC timeline under any circumstances is part of the deal for those willing to accept this sizeable challenge.

“Development and component integration,” DISA explains, “will proceed on an accelerated schedule.” That’s fine. What’s surprising is the requirement that follows the accelerated timeline challenge: “The contractor must meet these deadlines, regardless of when the contract is awarded.”

In other words, if the deadline’s Monday, and the contract’s awarded Friday, cancel your weekend plans if you’re the winning contractor. But the payoff’s huge.

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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.