The Department of Defense has appointed Charles Phalen, current director of the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) to be the Acting Director of the newly created Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). The move comes as NBIB and the Defense Security Service (DSS) prepare to merge their operations. Current DSS Director, Dan Payne, is set to retire.
Phalen has worked extensively to bring down the size of the security clearance backlog, improve the quality of investigations and modernize the security clearance investigations process. Appointed as the first NBIB director in 2016, in the wake of Edward Snowden and the OPM hack, Phalen has managed to reduce the size of the security clearance backlog to just over 400,000 cases, implement a number of process changes, and nearly double the investigative capacity of the organization. His intelligence community background and list of accomplishments has helped him shore up the support of agency heads and industry partners alike.
“His current position, background, and experience in both government and industry make him well qualified to serve as the Acting Director, DCSA,” wrote Joseph Kernan, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, in a memo. “He will provide the steady leadership, continuity, and depth of knowledge necessary to transfer the background investigation mission to DoD and to integrate the workforces into a cohesive team.”
Today marks the first deadline imposed by the White House’s long-awaited executive order to transfer the security clearance mission from OPM to DoD. The EO required OPM and DoD to finalize details of the security clearance transfer by June 24, with the final transfer October 1, the start of the fiscal year.
As NBIB director Phalen has already been at work reassuring stakeholders and employees that the transfer will not affect the progress NBIB has made.
“Our absolute goal in this – us here at OPM, at Defense Security Service, and everybody else who cares about this – is to avoid speed bumps,” said Phalen, speaking at a small press gathering in May. “On October 2, when you wake up, all you can tell is that we’ll have a different T-shirt on. And we’re not even sure we’re gonna do that.”
Over the past 2.5 years, with Phalen at the helm, NBIB has made a series of small process improvements that have helped it cut the number of pending investigations nearly in half. From VTC capability for investigations to the roll-out of a new security clearance application, NBIB has done the work to reduce the backlog.
As NBIB and DSS go away and DCSA emerges, Phalen will have the mission of melding disparate field offices, establishing budgets and resources and entering into contractual agreements.
Defense officials note the appointment of Phalen promises both consistency, and a commitment to continual improvement. Business as usual – but better.