In recent months, a massive practical and philosophical overhaul of the security clearance process has gotten underway. Primary among these is the transfer of the security clearance process from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to the Department of Defense – a transition that will be completed on October 1 of this year. The National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) will fold into the newly-formed Defense Counterintelligence Security Agency (DCSA).
But what do these changes mean to employers looking for relief in this difficult hiring market? Bill Meeboer, Senior Manager of Enterprise Talent Sourcing and Innovation at Lockheed Martin believes it’s cause for encouragement. After 15 years recruiting in the cleared space, he believes that these changes and others will improve the current situation.
“I’m optimistic the clearance process is on its way to recovery, due to some of the creative, progressive thinking – both within the federal agencies, as well as from industry partners,” says Meeboer. “Lockheed has partnered with some of our peer organizations to work with the federal government on different ways in which we could expedite security clearance investigations.”
Lockheed Martin and the Public-Private Effort to Innovate the Security Clearance Process
Meeboer and his team have been working closely with the NBIB to implement innovations in the security clearance process. Earlier this year, Lockheed Martin helped participate in the first industry “hubbing” with NBIB; investigators came to the Lockheed facility to conduct a high volume of background investigations – getting them done quickly in a single, centralized location.
“The program was a great public private partnership,” says Meeboer. “The purpose was to help clear the backlog with existing employees with backed-up periodic reinvestigations needed for programs of key national importance and defense. And that, in turn, relieves the burden on new investigations all across the board.”
This hubbing strategy proved a huge time saver for both Lockheed Martin and NBIB. “It was very successful for us and we were able to take a lot of existing employees who needed to be cleared up a level or to have an investigation completed to be moved on to a special program in a very expedited manner.”
Video teleconferencing (VTC) to conduct background interviews is another innovation that Lockheed and investigators have been bringing to the clearance process – it’s a technology that has required getting used to for such a security-conscious industry.
“For the most part, VTC has been one of those technologies that was a bit ahead of its time; a lot of people were using it, but then the concept of using it securely came along a little slower. Not everybody can sit inside of a SCIF or a vault to conduct these,” Meeboer explains. “So, being able to create safe, secure spaces on both sides…was a great partnership – both with our government agency partners, as well as our internal IT security team.”
With so much time in the security clearance process caused by the leg work of conducting in-person interviews, VTC can be a significant cost and time saver.
“I think it’s been a great advantage that allowed us to move things along much quicker, and it’s something what we saw success with over the last few years…Previously our model was to fly everybody into a location – requiring employees to take time off of work and disrupt their personal lives – for something that may have been a one to two hour interview. That same model has been successful with this process because it’s less invasive. It can be done securely now. It really expedites the ability to get those scheduled in a timely manner.”
These Innovations Are Cause for Optimism
With these innovations, Meeboer sees good cause for employers to be optimistic about the future of cleared recruiting and national security overall. But he understands if some of his peers still have their concerns.
“I think for those that had been working in the industry a while, many of them are what I’ll call ‘battle scarred.’ So, I think it’s week to week. I think sometimes we’ll see some improvements in processing times, and then we’ll see some lags.”
Overall, Meeboer is keeping his eye on these changes and believes that the worst is over. “I think overall the trend is positive. I think we’ve hit our peak challenge… I’ve been following the re-architecture of the background process, the shifting of who’s responsible for it, and I’m optimistic.”
That said, employers will still need to change their tactics and outlook from that of several years ago, when the process was in a different state. “We’re not back to where we were a few years ago, where we could attain an interim clearance in just a matter of days. That was really what helped drive a lot of our previous staffing model – not having to wait the extended period of time to get people cleared. So, we’re optimistic, but we’re going to be in a ‘wait-and-see’ mode.”