Who Pays for Background Investigations?

Intelligence

Freedom isn’t free. Nor are security clearances. And the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), now responsible for about 95 percent of the federal government’s background investigations and serving more than 100 federal agencies, makes its money by way of the work it does for its clients. For FY 2018, the NBIB published predicted costs for the wide array of services they provide agencies. Here’s an overview of how much NBIB estimates agencies will be paying for background investigations come October 2018.

HOW IT WORKS

Security clearances cost money. And for every step in the life of your security clearance—from initial investigations to reinvestigations, and even the new continuous evaluation checks—the federal government pays. As NBIB explains, “Funding for NBIB is provided solely through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Revolving Fund.” Here’s what that means. Let’s say that some office in the Department of Defense hires a new employee who requires some level of background check. In the end, that office will pay for that clearance by way of the OPM revolving fund. And for every aspect of an investigation, there’s a cost. Whether it’s a simple fingerprint check, a National Agency Check (NAC), or Tier 5 investigation that buys you a Top Secret clearance, your agency is paying NBIB.

BASIC clearance COSTS

NBIB anticipates that come October, the simplest NBIB check, the National Agency Check, will cost agencies $154. Understandably, the more complex the background investigation, the more it costs your agency. For instance, for employees requiring a Tier 2 review—that is, a position with no national security sensitivity but still requiring a modicum of public trust—agencies can expect to pay $1,500, unless they want it quickly, and then they can add $125 to that cost. That’s not so bad if the agency is really filling an urgent need. But jump to a TR5 case—that is, a TS-SCI—and the agency will spend over $3,000 for a reinvestigation, $5,596 for an initial investigation, and over $6,000 for priority service.

Then, there are the processing fees (as always). The State Criminal History check is only $5, plus whatever the state charges the government for running the check. If a Bureau of Vital Statistics check is required, your agency pays $24. If it’s necessary to check your spouse for nefarious activity, add $41. The point is that every step, every requirement, costs your agency.

Costs ADD UP

Some of the fees seems small. However, we have to remember how many investigations we’re talking about. According to Peter Suciu, “In October the National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB) . . . took over the clearance process. It wasn’t with a clean slate, of course, and NBIB inherited a backlog of more than 500,000 clearance investigations.” That backlog, according to Suciu, represented nearly 350,000 secret clearances and over 75,500 top secret clearances. For the secret clearances at FY2018 base costs, that adds up to about $151.5 million. For the top secret backlog, we’re talking something on the order of $422 million.

All that just scratches the surface. And those figures are subject to increase. “NBIB will work with its customer agencies and do everything possible to maintain these published prices,” writes NBIB Director Charles Phalen Jr., “however the full impact of external factors may require an adjustment to prices prior to the beginning of FY 2018.”

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.