There’s perhaps nothing that moves slower than government policy. As the National Background Investigations Bureau attempts to crawl its way out of a 700,000 case backlog and lengthening processing times for security clearances, old policy is an often-cited problem.
The 1947 National Security Act created the framework for today’s personnel security program. And while minor changes have been made, the mindset behind how the government views security, has not. How do you make the security clearance process better when it takes eight years to adjust one question?
While it may seem impossible, and improbable, there are some major changes coming to the background investigations process in the upcoming months. If you have one, are battling to get one, or think you may ever need one, here are the changes you need to be aware of.
There’s nothing but good news when it comes to eAPP, the replacement for the eQIP system, the current technology used to capture background investigations data. If you’ve filled out the form, it can be frustrating to realize the government system of record can’t correctly match a zip code and city for you, while every other website on the planet can. eAPP will finally bring auto-fill capability to the security clearance application, and hopefully a significant reduction of errors.
While it’s easy to blame the backlog (and quite frankly, everything), on the government, applicants face their share of blame, as well – inaccurate information is a major cause of a slower than necessary investigation. eAPP will make it easier to ensure everything is complete -and correct.
2. Better background investigation interviews.
If you thought your last job interview was awkward, wait until you undergo a background investigation interview. Investigators are operating with limited time and an incredibly limited script. The typical background investigation interview often consists primarily of reading through the questions on your SF-86. But according to NBIB Director Charles Phalen, that’s changing.
“We are going to move away from doing that,” said Phalen at a recent Intelligence and National Security Alliance Symposium. He’s working to incorporate conversational subject interviews into the training process. The difficulty is in training all 7,000 background investigators on more intuitive interview techniques. Ultimately, the goal is for the personal subject interview to be less about confirming details, and more about uncovering new information.
“I care about what you found out at the end of the interview that you didn’t know when you started,” said Phalen.
Personal subject interviews aren’t going anywhere, but security leaders envision a time when they’ll be focused primarily on Top Secret security clearance investigations, allowing continuous evaluation (CE) to keep tabs on suspect behavior. Continuous evaluation is being rolled out to nearly a third of the clearance workforce this year. CE may someday take the place of periodic reinvestigations completely, and that frees up significant investigator time, as they focus on new investigations.
4. New information sources.
The adjudicative criteria haven’t changed in three decades and they’re not likely to change any time soon. While the policy may take decades to change, the Defense Security Service wants to look into what can change to help adjudicators make their decisions.
“What are the best sources of information we can go to to meet those standards, to provide that information, so those adjudicators can make that decision?” said Dan Payne, Director of the Defense Security Service. “We cannot continue to do things the way we’re doing it now.”
What’s not changing? The human element of the background investigation process. As much as technology is emphasized when it comes to what needs to change about the current personnel security program, policy leaders emphasize technology will never be a replacement for the human interaction between an investigator and applicant. And considering the painful steps it takes to adjust the adjudicative criteria itself, the questions on the SF-86 aren’t likely to change, either.