For the past two years, the Defense Security Service (DSS) has been advising security officers to submit periodic reinvestigations for Tier 5 (Top Secret) investigations at the 6 year mark, rather than 5 years. The move was an effort to reduce the growing security clearance backlog, and allow the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) to make initial investigations a priority. Like most directives, however, implementation has created confusion across some offices. Security officers who merely look at the date without the context of the policy directive may have refused access to individuals with out of scope investigations, despite numerous policy memos noting that security clearance eligibility doesn’t expire if the candidate remains in-access.

In a sign the government aims to keep the 6-year PR rather than move back to 5 years, the Pentagon recently issued guidance clarifying that access to Special Access Programs (SAP) may continue even if investigations are past 6 years.

Previously, the personnel requirements for SAP were:

  • “Current investigative scope within 5 years.
  • No potentially disqualifying information.
  • Periodic reinvestigation reflected a “submitted” date in the DoD system of record (JPAS or JVS) within 5 years of the closed date of the last completed investigation.”

In a memo released by the Pentagon last week, these requirements were altered thusly:

  • “Current investigative scope within 6 years.
  • No potentially disqualifying information.
  • Periodic reinvestigation reflects “PSQ Submitted” date in the DoD system of record within 6 years of the closed date of the last completed investigation. Or
  • If the nominee submitted a new PSQ, and the DoD system of record does not reflect the PSQ submission date, a printed copy of the e-QIP signature page may be accepted by cognizant PSO to validate submission was completed within 6 years of the closed date of the last completed investigation.
  • If the nominee meets the above standards for a current investigation, a Letter of Compelling Need is not required.”

It goes on to clarify, however, that access to SAP information or facilities will not be denied solely on the grounds of a reinvestigation dated greater than six years. The memo is signed by the Director of the Special Access Program, Maj. Gen. John Horner, USAF.

Does this Move sacrifice security for speed?

While this change in SAP program guidelines may help break up the backlog, it’s not without potential risk.Merton Miller, former Deputy Director of the National Bureau of Background Investigations (NBIB), has many times recommended more frequent periodic reinvestigations—not less. With a bevy of security breaches over the last few years (Manning, Snowden, Alexis), this move may add risk by trying to shave off time. After the 2013 Navy Yard shooting, new guidance dictated that Secret investigations were supposed to take place every five years instead of every ten. Shortly after, the personnel security program lost the backbone of its investigative capacity and completely ignored the new five-year directive.

The memo is a necessary directive when periodic reinvestigation timelines are at an all-time high, and many clearance holders at the Top Secret level find their reinvestigation packet isn’t submitted until the 6 year mark, and favorably adjudicated until the 8 year mark. But with 8 years in between initial eligibility and review, the continued emphasis on a 6-year reinvestigation points to the real need to implement continuous evaluation across the cleared workforce.

For security clearance holders requiring SAP access, it’s also a good reminder to stay on top of your PR timeline. While the memo clarifies the 6-year-submission timeline, clearance holders still need to have their PR submitted by the 6-year timeline. Work with your FSO to ensure your packet is submitted within the timeline, so you don’t lose eligibility.

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Caroline's background is in public policy, non-profit fundraising, and - oddly enough - park rangering. Though she once dreamed of serving America secretly in the CIA, she's grateful she's gotten to serve America publicly - both through the National Park Service and right here at ClearanceJobs.