What is DSS? Get to Know the Agency that Wants to Own the Clearance Process

Security Clearance security clearance investigation

Congress is debating the merits of the personnel security agencies to determine which one is best suited to manage the security clearance process. Currently it is the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB). Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) is one critic of the possible transition.

“AIA and the other members of the multi-association coalition oppose this ‘phased transfer’ because it unintentionally introduces significant risk into ongoing efforts to eliminate the clearance backlog,” it said.

“Even if the transition were seamless and resources were increased for both NBIB and DSS, the proposal fails to mandate fundamental reforms vital to improving the efficiency of the clearance process and increasing security,” the trade group continued. “This is particularly concerning as it relates to improved reciprocity and streamlined clearance standards, where additional stovepipes will make reform that much more difficult.”

While you might have an opinion on whether or not we should move the personnel security program back to the Department of Defense (DOD), it’s a good time to understand the agency that is vying for the position. To save you the search time, here’s the 411 on the Defense Security Service (DSS):

What is DSS?

DSS is a DoD agency mainly located in Quantico, Va. that provides military, defense agencies, some federal agencies, and cleared contractor facilities with security support services.

Goal of DSS

DSS seeks to provide security oversight and education operations, with the overarching goal of strengthening security at home and abroad. Under the National Industrial Security Program (NISP), DSS provides risk management services to the cleared industry and oversees the protection of classified information. Education, training, and certification for government and contractor employees regarding security is provided by DSS. If you’ve ever clicked through a powerpoint presentation about handling classified information, chances are that DSS had a hand in the content or development of the “training.”

DSS works with Facility Security Officers (FSO) and facility management to ensure cleared contractors and federal government facilities are protecting U.S. and foreign classified information. DSS has been entrusted with the responsibility to assess and monitor those who have access to classified information. Classified shipments between the U.S. and foreign countries also fall under the oversight of DSS.

DSS Background

DSS was established in 1972 as Defense Investigative Service (DIS). After the Defense Industrial Services Program transferred from Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in 1980, DIS began to train personnel at the Defense Industrial Security Institute. In 2005, the Personnel Security Investigations (PSI) moved from DSS to Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

DSS is a DoD agency that reports to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD). DSS consists primarily of Industrial Security Representatives who are tasked with advising and assisting cleared contractors to protect classified information.

Back in August 2017, Secretary of Defense James Mattis signed of on a three-phased approach for DSS to take over the investigation process. Full implementation of the phased transfer would not be fully in effect until 2020. DSS’s mission does seem to lend to ownership of the security process. However, the real answer to the question on whether to move the personnel security process is not if it makes sense to have this function under DSS. Instead, we need to ask what will make the process better if it’s housed under DSS? Change is hard and in the government, change is not done quickly. If the change process will slow the clearance process down (and it will), then how will the new agency speed things up? The answer to that question remains hard to see or predict.

Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.