In testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Hearing Committee today, National Background Investigations Bureau Director Charles Phalen announced some good news for the beleaguered personnel security program – the backlog is on track to be under 600,000 pending investigations by the new year.
Currently, the backlog is at 605,000 – a reduction of 17% since a high of 725,000 just a few months ago. The backlog is currently being reduced by an average of 3,000-4,000 cases per week, noted Phalen. It’s a significant accomplishment for NBIB, considering the number of cases received has increased. In order to make progress NBIB has not just worked to reduce backlog, but has had to increase its investigative capacity. The current backlog includes:
- 190,000 initial Secret clearances
- 90,000 initial Top Secret clearances
Of those, 40% are currently working with an interim clearance.
Phalen notes that several transformation initiatives are contributing to NBIB’s ability to make progress against the backlog. They include a significant effort to increase investigative capacity by hiring new background investigators, to a new total of 8,800. NBIB has also taken steps to work more closely with its federal and industry stakeholders – something that was not a strong suit when investigations were under the helm of OPM. Phalen highlighted the NBIB Stakeholder Group and Customer Advisory Board, which takes in concerns and looks to take the appropriate reform and progress actions.
NBIB is also working to make progress on goals identified by the Performance Accountability Council, including:
- New initiatives to implement continuous evaluation; reducing the need for “calendar-driven” periodic reinvestigations.
- Enhancing state, local and federal law enforcement information sharing.
- Increased use of automation and standardization.
“As we work towards the merger of our operations with the Defense Security Service, our mission of building and maintaining a trusted workforce and our efforts to realize process efficiencies, improve timeliness, and reduce our case inventory will continue,” Phalen’s testimony stated. “NBIB and DoD are using a process, known as a Tollgate, to facilitate regular discussions, develop milestones and deliverables, and mitigate challenges to assist a timely and successful transition. We remain committed to using innovation to meet our customer agencies’ needs, leveraging their expertise as part of our decision-making processes, and remaining transparent and accountable to our stakeholders and Congress.”
A major focus of the hearing is the progress made in moving the investigative mission from NBIB to DoD – with some committee members continuing to voice concern about DoD’s capacity to take on this new mission and achieve the milestones required.
“We’re not staying idle,” emphasized Gary Reid, Director for Defense Intelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “The system we wanted to implement later, we’re actually able to implement now.” He noted that automation and continuous evaluation checks are moving forward ahead of schedule.
Reid emphasized that the evaluation piece is critical in reducing the hundreds of thousands of cases specifically submitted for periodic reinvestigations, and reducing the investigative workload required to get those cases completed.