In an effort to combat the significant backlog of pending investigations, several years ago the then-National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) piloted programs to allow for VTC subject interviews to be conducted. VTC is particularly helpful for background investigation interviews involving subjects who may be serving overseas. With COVID-19 now making almost any worker who is able to a teleworker, the use of both VTC and phone screening processes are proving a vital aspect of keeping background investigations moving forward.
Last week the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) released guidance about how background investigations are moving forward despite several of the challenges posed by the coronavirus, including the difficulty of submitting electronic fingerprint records, which had previously been a critical step at the beginning of the background investigations process. Agencies who cannot get an electronic fingerprint submitted will now see investigations move forward, rather than being installed indefinitely as they await access.
In addition, applicants should expect to see more phone verifications, and may be contacted by their investigator for a virtual, rather than in-person interview. DCSA provided the following statement on how they are responding to COVID-19 in a way that both advances national security and keeps personnel safe:
“The health and well-being of all employees is a paramount concern for DCSA, We also understand the importance of the personnel vetting mission and addressing needs our customer agencies. To this end DCSA has implemented maximum use of telework flexibilities across the agency in response to the spread of COVID-19. In doing so this has required adjustments in methods used to contact subjects, sources, and providers of record information. Such methods include virtual interviews and remote access to records. If at any time there are questions regarding the legitimacy of these contacts please reach out to DSCA Physical Security on (888)795-5673 or by email, RMFSIMSST@nbib.gov for investigator verification.”
Security clearance applicants or anyone concerned if a query is legitimate is encouraged to use the phone or email investigator verification provided.
The personnel security program – like every business or government agency in America today – faces challenges to the way it does business as it navigates a global pandemic. It is currently working on multiple policy updates to ensure both the security of personnel and that the mission-critical personnel security program moves forward.