Background Investigations Backlog Has Industry Making Suggestions to Government

Security Clearance man with files

The frustration level is rising on all sides of the equation with the interminable backlog of background investigations. We’ve written in these spaces on the magnitude of the backlog and how Congress has its eye, but little else on the issue. In addition, we’ve given  advice on how to manage expectations with both candidates and employers. It appears industry has reached the point where they are banding together to offer up their suggestions to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the intelligence community on how to march through this backlog. They have formed a coalition of industries and did their own investigation/research into the issue, looking for areas where improvement is possible.

The industry coalition

The coalition of industrial organizations includes the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), National Defense Industrial Organization (NDIA), IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS), and Professional Services Council (PSC).  They represent the industries which are most affected by the backlog of personnel. The backlog is a drain on the operational expenses of each and every entity, who has an employee in the queue, as well as potentially having a deleterious effect on the employee themselves as the idle in limbo.

Their efforts began in May of 2017, and have continued through the summer of 2017, they will meet again in the fall at the Industrial Security Conference in San Diego.  According to the AIA, this is what they have been doing:

Defining the issue – The coalition has met with government entities to obtain their perspective and thoughts. The entities included Defense Security Service (DSS), National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) and Department of Defense Central Adjudication Facility (DOD-CAF), and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).They also met with congressional representatives and their staffs.

Developing next steps – In the opinion of the coalition the NBIB has been making great strides, given it’s still in its first year of existence. That said, they point out the challenge of making progress when congress continues to bifurcate the process even further, by separating out the DOD background investigations for DSS adjudication and and move the rest, which are non-Intelligence Community (IC) cases, to the NBIB.

If this happens the IC will be conducting background investigations, the NBIB and the DSS. To their credit the coalition has come down against the division of NBIB efforts and maintaining the status quo of IC and NBIB as the two background investigation processes.

Coalition Goals

The coalition has identified four near term goals.

  • Streamlining clearance standards – Establish consistent forms and information for all agencies, thus creating uniformity and setting the stage for reciprocity.
    • Fitness for employment
    • Credentially
    • Access to classified materials
  • Reciprocity – Currently different agencies and departments have the freedom and exercise the freedom to demand unique one-off pieces of information as part of their background investigations. With uniformity in place, reciprocal access allows any agency or department to quickly determine an individual’s credentials. Such a capability will eliminate many man hours of coordination and exchange of paper between organizations prior to classified meetings between entities.
  • Update and make transparent the investigation and re-investigation process – Manual data processing of applicant information needs to be put to pasture. Providing industry the means to electronically submit and maintain personnel information required for the clearance process, will serve to increase the throughput of clearance requests.
  • Dispense with first-in-first out (FIFO) mindset – There is a need to change to mission focus and not queue building. Clearly being in queue is a reality for all, and all deserve to be processed quickly. That said, those who are involved in mission critical activities should move to the front of the queue. The coalition speculates this may also assist low-risk investigations to move more quickly and high-risk time consuming background investigations may find their delays alleviated.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).

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