The Department of Defense is set to take over the entire background investigations mission, according to remarks made by Daniel Payne, director of the Defense Security Service at the NCMS Society of Industrial Security Professionals seminar.
“There is a movement afoot to give DSS the entirety of the background investigations mission, with the exception of the Intelligence Community,” said Payne, echoing a report by the Associated Press last week that quoted Pentagon sources as saying the DoD would be taking over the clearance vetting process. “Right now we’re looking at a merger of NBIB and DSS to take over the background investigations mission.”
The movement is significant, and comes after months of speculation as to what the future of the background investigations program might look like. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act mandated a 3-year plan for DoD to take over control of its own investigations. The move was the latest in a series of major shifts in authority related to the investigations process and the transfer authority away from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In October of 2016, the National Background Investigations Bureau was created with a presidentially appointed director and the goal of helping to reform an investigation process broken by cyber attacks, scandals, and poor contracting decisions.
At the same time NBIB was created, the Department of Defense was given control of the IT aspect of background investigations. Now after 18 months, the White House is poised to wipe out NBIB altogether and move the entire clearance process – from IT to investigation – to DoD.
Two Agencies, Same Mission?
In a March Senate Intelligence Community hearing several senators expressed concerns with the current plan to split the background investigations mission. Senators expressed efficiency concerns related to two agencies conducting the same mission. Industry representatives expressed concern that the government wouldn’t be able to compete for and hire enough investigators to staff both agencies.
In April, individuals reported that the White House was gathering together the stakeholders to discuss the merits of moving the entire program to DoD control.
“There are some out there in the Administration who do not want to see the mission separated,” confirmed Payne in this morning’s remarks. “There is a lot of benefit in having one organization responsible.”
DSS currently has 46 field offices located across the country, and NBIB has roughly 80, said Payne. When the White House plan is implemented those offices will be combined, and the nearly 10,000 government and contract employees supporting the NBIB mission will begin to transfer to DoD.
Payne emphasized the original push by DoD to take over its investigations had nothing to do with their ability, or trust in NBIB to do the job.
“What it is is DoD having a desire to take control of its own mission…its own personnel readiness,” said Payne.
What’s not clear is what the timeline will look like for the transfer of investigation authority. One thing is certain – NBIB isn’t likely to go away right away. The 18-month old agency will likely have another three years to work through the 700,000 case backlog it currently owns. The EO will have to set out the plan for how other agencies will begin to work with DSS as their investigative provider, but it’s likely to be a 3-year phased approach similar to what the NDAA outlined for DoD investigations.
That means for the next year or so, at least, NBIB will continue to both battle through its backlog of cases, as well as keep conducting new TS clearance investigations and reinvestigations.