Last March the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) announced the Trusted Workforce 2.0 initiative, an effort to overhaul and improve the security clearance process as security clearance reform efforts turned to how to update a security framework that’s been in place since the 1950s.
The three-prong approach focused on:
- Revamping the approach and policy framework.
- Improving enterprise business processes.
- Modernizing the IT framework used in the personnel security process.
Today, ODNI and OPM outlined their framework for overhauling the personnel vetting process – the most cumbersome and perhaps most scrutinized aspect of security clearance reform efforts – in a meeting with media outlets including ClearanceJobs.com. The new framework is considered a key piece of the executive branch’s vow to improve the personnel vetting process.
“The executive branch has been really hard at work on this and we want you to know about it – clearance holders, industry, and would-be clearance holders,” said Bill Evanina, NCSC Director.
In addition to announcing the framework, ODNI and OPM updated on their effort to reduce the security clearance backlog of pending investigations. Reforms over the past year have helped the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) to reduce the backlog by 24%, to roughly 551,000 pending cases today. The figure is still more than double what officials hope to be NBIB’s steady state caseload, but represents a dramatic improvement over the 700,000+ backlog figure of just a year ago.
Attracting Trusted Workers: A Mission-Critical Job for the Federal Government
“We need to be able to compete for the best and brightest talent, and this is an essential part of how to do that,” said Mike Rigas, OPM’s Deputy Director.
Earlier this week Pentagon officials drove home the point by citing a lengthy security clearance process as a critical obstacle in cybersecurity hiring efforts.
“The onboarding process can be very frustrating,” said Brig. Gen. Dennis Crall, deputy principal cyber advisor at the Pentagon. When Pentagon hiring managers are unable to onboard IT specialists because their applications are held up by the security clearance process, many of those applicants lose interest in working for the Department of Defense entirely,” Crall noted.
The new ODNI and OPM-authored framework is designed to both help improve the issue of security clearance timeliness, while more importantly offering up a risk-based process that looks more strategically at which types of behaviors constitute a security risk – and which don’t. Officials outlined the different aspects of the new framework, specifically:
- More nimble policy making.
- Vetting tied to mission needs.
- Aligned security, suitability and credentialing.
- Reduced number of investigative tiers.
- Expanded spectrum of investigative methods.
- Trusted information provider program.
For the first time in decades, the federal government is looking at a bottom-up update to personnel security procedures, “From a ‘blue sky’ perspective, how do we change the world of how we vet people?” said Evanina.
The six elements of the framework tie directly into current security clearance reform efforts, including efforts to improve security clearance reciprocity between government agencies, and expand the resources available to background investigators and the adjudicators making security clearance decisions.
In contrast to the largely ‘one size fits all’ security clearance process (governed by an initial investigation and then subsequent periodic reinvestigations), revamped vetting will focus on mission needs, outlining five specific vetting scenarios: initial vetting (the initial background investigation), continuous vetting (continuous evaluation), upgrading vetting (clearance upgrades), reestablishing trust (when an individual has experienced a break in service), and transfer of trust (reciprocity).
“For the first time ever, the executive and legislative branches are on the same page about this issue,” said Evanina. “It needs to be a flexible, nimble process.”
An executive order to transfer NBIB to the Department of Defense has been waiting in the wings for months. Pending legislation is also promoting reciprocity and security clearance portability efforts. OPM and ODNI officials emphasize that these and other policy efforts fit within the framework they’ve developed, and the government’s efforts to not just improve, but transform personnel security.
“With the overarching framework developed, the next steps involve working through interagency processes to get the specifics right and begin issuing and implementing the policies across the government to bring about change,” noted ODNI and OPM officials.