Because those hired for national security positions requiring access to classification require a background investigation to ensure they are “reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the United States,” you can imagine there are many issues that come up requiring policy reform. That, coupled with agencies undergoing changes, can make the security clearance landscape look quite different from one day to the next.
Let’s walk through some of the highlights in the security process in the last 10 years, starting with 2019: the year of security clearance reform.
2019: The year of security clearance reform. Executive Order to transfer security clearance background investigations. The organization conducting majority of clearance investigations underwent a massive logistical undertaking: Operations moved from the OPM to the DoD. The new organization, headed by the current chief of NBIB, is the Defense Counterintelligence Security Agency (DCSA). NBIB successfully reduced background investigations inventory by 40%, from a high of 725,000 to 433,000. Advancements in eAdjudication, improving automation in the personnel vetting process. The IT Shared Service Rollout, designed to improve personnel vetting across the executive branch, was implemented. Continuous Evaluation expanded and the system began automated record checks within the seven required information categories and expanded the enrolled population.
2018: Nearly 700,000 men and women were still waiting on investigations. The backlog reached historic heights earlier in the year, hovering around 750,000 pending investigations. The government looks to overhaul the entire security clearance process and ODNI launches Trusted Workforce 2.0 in March. Wait times in the first quarter of 2018 were averaging a whopping 534 days for Top Secret and 221 days for Secret and Confidential security clearances for DoD industry applicants. Securely Expediting Clearances Through Reporting Transparency Act of 2018 or the SECRET Act of 2018 reinstated the requirement to provide quarterly updates on processing times, explaining the process for conducting background investigations in the executive branch and report on the duplication of resources if a proposal to move investigations for defense department personnel back to the Defense Security Service (DSS) is approved. Lastly, there were changes to public trust clearances.
2017: The Security Executive Agent Directive 4 (SEAD 4) was refreshed which implemented the updated national security adjudication guidelines on June 8, 2017. The backlog of 700,000 caused work delays for both federal and contracting efforts. Efforts to reduce the backlog started in conjunction with stress on tightening the reins.
2016: Following the completion of a 90-day review of the OPM data breaches, the President announced the intent to create a new “National Background Investigation Bureau” (NBIB) to replace the Federal Investigative Services Division of OPM. The Director of National Intelligence issued Security Executive Agent Directive 5 authorizing the use of publicly accessible social media information as a component of security clearance investigations. There was a Change 2 to the NISPOM required cleared contractors to establish Insider Threat Programs. DoD announced the integration of various personnel security, facility clearance, and training databases into the Defense Information Systems for Security (DISS), providing a single portal to request, conduct, and record personnel security actions. Due to FY2016 funding shortfalls, DSS limited investigative submissions to OPM, causing delays for industrial cases. Congress approved additional funding, enabling DSS to continue submitting work to OPM and to work down the backlog. Tier 4 and 5 investigations were implemented for High Risk Public Trust positions and Top-Secret clearances. Periodic reinvestigations will be known as a Tier 5R, replacing the SSBI-PR and PPR. Continuous Evaluation is the significant change implemented in the Tier 5 investigation. NBIB within OPM absorbed the existing mission, functions, and personnel of OPM’s Federal Investigative Services (FIS) on October 1. Question S21 of the SF86 was changed, removing the requirement to list mental health counseling. Other criteria was updated, too.
2015: Title 5 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1400, Designation of National Security Positions, was issued and replaced 5 CFR 732. A series of data breaches affecting the personnel and security clearance records of OPM and two of its contract investigations service providers culminated in the announcement of a massive breach of OPM files from May 2014 to April 2015 affecting the personal information of over 21 million people. All SF86s filled out since 2000 were compromised. OPM shut down e-QIP for a month to improve computer security as the investigative backlog increased. OPM increased the price of their investigations an additional 10%. OPM implemented Tier 3 and Tier 3R investigations to replace the NACLC and ANACI investigation.
2014: DoD and the Department of Navy released reviews recommending improving Continuous Evaluation, emphasizing individual reporting responsibilities, and establishing an insider threat management center. Insider Threat & Security Clearance Reform became a Cross-Agency Priority Goal. Due to the reported compromise of security clearance records and the pending DOJ lawsuit charging USIS with contract fraud, OPM announced it would not renew its contract with USIS in October. Two thousand USIS investigative personnel lost their jobs. Most went to KeyPoint Government Solutions (KGS) and CACI, but a few hundred investigators decide to quit entirely, causing major investigative delays. In November 2014, OPM implemented Tier 1 and Tier 2 investigations, replacing the NACI and MBI, respectively.
2013: Six DoD Central Adjudication Facilities (CAFs) were consolidation into a single CAF. The 4 other DoD CAFs (NSA, DIA, NGA, and DOHA) remained separate entities. DSS announced suspension of PRs for Top Secret clearance of contractor personnel from 14 June to 30 September 2013 due to funding shortfalls. This followed similar action by the Air Force and Navy in February. The backlog of industrial security clearances increased due to the government shutdown during the first 3 weeks in October and a flood of Top Secret PR requests following a 105-day moratorium. A number of events beginning in fall 2013 caused delays in both investigations and adjudications. The ability of government agencies to meet the IRTPA requirements was largely dependent on funding. Although technological advances reduced some of the manpower intensive aspects of investigations and streamlined other processes; new investigative requirements have added to the cost and time required for investigations. Many new changes were implemented and continued being implemented.
2012: The Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management jointly approved new Federal Investigative Standards (FIS), but no major action was immediately taken to implement any changes. The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence published,the DOD Polygraph Program Process and Compliance Study. The Deputy Secretary of Defense directed a complete consolidation of the functions, resources, and assets of the Army Central Clearance Facility, Department of the Navy CAF, Air Force CAF, Joint Staff CAF, Washington Headquarters (WHS) CAF, Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO), and the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) into a single organization under the authority, direction and control of the Director of Administration and Management.
2011: GAO reported removal of the DOD Personnel Security Program from its list of High-Risk Programs, because of improvements to the program since it was first placed on the list in 2005. Timeliness requirements of the IRTPA were largely met, but a single database of investigations still didn’t exist. Title 5 Code of Federal Regulations Part 731 (5 CFR 731), “Suitability,” was changed to require Periodic Reinvestigations (PRs) on all “covered” Public Trust positions at 5-year intervals. OPM announced its new SF-86 and that effective on August 29, 2011 as part of a Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS), the new 2010 SF86 will be available for use by federal contractors using JPAS. A new “Fair Credit Release” form was also released as part of the SF86.
2010: For a few years, starting in about 2010, federal agencies were generally able to meet the IRTPA timeliness requirements. The Defense Central Index of Investigations (DCII) was transferred from DSS to the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC). This completed the transfer of DoD Personnel Security IT Systems from DSS to DMDC. Previously the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS), the Case Adjudication Tracking System (CATS), the Secure Web Fingerprint Transmission ( SWFT), and the improved Investigative Records Repository (iIRR) were transferred from DSS to DMDC. These systems were eventually integrated into the Defense Information Systems for Security (DISS) along with the Industrial Security Facility Database (ISFD) and Educational Network Registration and On-Line Learning (ENROL). DISS was designed to provide Automated Records Check (ARC) and eAdjudication functionality and to be the single point of entry for DoD personnel security. James Clapper was confirmed by the Senate and assumed the position of DNI on August 9. He was previously Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and led the DOD clearance reform effort. Numerous news sources reported that OMB sent a memo to federal agencies forbidding unauthorized federal employees and contractors from accessing classified documents publicly available on WikiLeaks and other websites.
2008: OPM reduced the number of its initial investigations that were over 180 days old from 98,000 in October 2006 to 1,802 in August 2008, and average timeliness for 90% of all clearance determinations improved from 265 days in 2005 to 82 days in the 4th quarter of Fiscal Year 2008. The Smith Amendment was repealed and replaced by Bond Amendment, prohibiting all federal agencies from granting or renewing any security clearance for a current user of illegal drugs. Congress sent a request to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asking for a formal evaluation of Intelligence Community security clearance processes and the DNI’s pilot project for security clearance reform.
Looking over the past decade, especially the last few years, 2020 should be an interesting year for improving the security clearance process further.