If you spend your days protecting national security information as a security clearance holder, you’re probably a master of your individual skill set – whether that’s proposal management or software engineering. What you’re probably not a master of is the myriad policies governing the security clearance process, from a national security framework established in 1947, to the more recently released Security Executive Agent Directives (SEADs).
The good news? Your company’s Facility Security Officer (FSO) is charged with staying current with all of these policy updates (and more). The bad news? There are currently so many policy updates in the works, even officials within the Defense Security Service recently admitted they’re having trouble keeping up with their own org charts.
1. when will the security clearance mission formally transfer to DoD?
For the last nine months, we’ve been expecting an executive order “any day” that would officially transfer the security clearance mission from OPM to DoD. If you’re looking for a good way to make enemies, walk into a room of security clearance officials and ask, “Hey, when’s that executive order coming?” (The author can personally attest to the effectiveness of this technique.)
To be fair, even those at the top don’t know the cause of the delay or when we can finally expect the President’s signature. This was confirmed yesterday at a meeting of the National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee (NISPPAC). Charlie Phalen, Director of the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), addressed the executive order the moment he began speaking to the crowd.
“Usually the first question I get is, ‘What’s the [security clearance] inventory? The first question that I get today when I walk into a room is, ‘Where’s that executive order?’ I think the last few times I’ve been here, I’ve promised that it’s right on the cusp of being issued to move the NBIB operation over to the Department of Defense in entirety. That is still just about to happen,” reassured Phalen.
“I can attest to the fact that I saw a live version of the latest draft, and we’re down to a couple of T’s to cross and I think it will be ready for a signature reasonably soon. I think the drama part is all pretty much gone and now it’s just up to getting a signature on it.”
However, Phalen went on to assure everyone that the NBIB and the DoD have not been waiting on this order to collaborate and begin the effort of shifting this mission from one agency to the other. They’re just waiting on the green light that will come with the President’s signature.
But for now, the great executive order mystery continues…
2. Are we making any progress on security clearance reciprocity?
According to Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 7, effective as of November 2018:
“Reciprocity determinations for national security background investigations and adjudications shall be made within five business days of receipt by the agency’s personnel security program for security processing.”
Likewise, Sen. Mark Warner, Vice Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has re-introduced his Modernizing the Trusted Workforce for the 21st Century Act of 2019. The legislation requires reciprocity of same level security clearances be recognized within two weeks.
Right now, neither of these benchmarks are being met – and industry representatives are struggling to get answers on what the actual timelines look like. Frustration over this was echoed by the NISPPAC crowd, who not only have long waits to transfer clearances from one agency or position to another, but often don’t even know who to consult as to the clearance’s status.
Officials of both government and industry all agreed that these delays were unacceptable and require attention. But for the moment, at least, it seems that security clearance reciprocity is “the lost reform.”
3. Continuous Evaluation – who, when, how?
Continuous evaluation (CE) is the concept that clearance holders will be subject to ongoing monitoring through data streams like credit reports and public records. The goal is that CE will eventually replace all five and 10 year reinvestigations, break up the clearance backlog, free up investigator time, and address security concerns as they arise.
CE has already been implemented for approximately 1.1 million security clearance holders. There are high hopes for the security and efficiency it could eventually achieve. Despite efforts to ramp up the use of CE, the figure has largely plateaued over the last several months. Why is that? Another question many security clearance holders and even company facility security officers are asking is – who gets enrolled into CE, and why? And will individual security clearance holders receive notification that they’ve been enrolled? (Short answer: No.)
Getting clear information about the status of security clearance reform efforts has always been difficult. The process of developing security policy is – not shockingly – often shrouded in secrets itself, with much of the guidance For Official Use Only, and many of the implemented reforms subject to interpretation.
The good news is all of these policy reforms – from transferring the background investigations mission to implementing new CE and reciprocity guidelines – are moving the security clearance process in the right direction. With the framework for Trusted Workforce 2.0 approved and on its way toward government-wide adoption, we can hope for fewer secrets, and a bit more clarity.