The security clearance process is time and labor intensive. While changes and advances including the National Background Investigation System and the implementation of Continuous Vetting are creating technological advancements in the process, there’s only so much that can be improved. It’s no surprise that organizations are looking at how technology can help them move cases along faster. A RFI from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is looking for a system to provide scoring for security clearance applicants. It’s like the government’s electronic adjudication program, applied on the front end of the security clearance process.
What is eAdjudication?
Electronic adjudication was implemented in September of 2009. With the launch of the Defense Information System for Security (DISS), automated record checks and eAdjudication. It allows electronic and automated records checks for submitted SF-86 applications. It doesn’t mean there aren’t humans involved in the process – background investigations and adjudications are still a very personal, human intensive business. But it does make automated checks a part of the process.
Government Computer Week reported on the ICE security clearance automation RFI, noting, “To make it easier to fill positions at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility is looking for an automated system that can prescreen applicants for national security positions and assign a complexity score that reflects the likelihood the candidate would be granted a security clearance.”
It’s basically e-Initiation – establishing at the initiation stage of the application the clearability of the applicant. They’re not just looking for a basic yes or no, but a scoring model that would create a ‘complexity’ rating for each applicant. The technology could have implications for hiring decisions (‘we’ll only consider applicants who have a 75% or higher rating’) but could also factor into how the agency considered hiring timeframes – knowing certain applicants would have a greater likelihood of obtaining an interim security clearance, versus applicants with lower scores who would likely face delays and be more likely to receive an interim denial.
Is it Legal?
The granting of a security clearance has long been held to be the full purview of the federal government, who only grants eligibility to access classified information when it meets its interests. The use of the SF-86 as an employment screening tool by private contractors has been discouraged, because of the risks of OFCCP violations or lawsuits – the demographic information included in the SF-86 could be seen as used to discriminate, which would create issues for cleared employers. The government doesn’t necessarily face the same legal concerns. ICE also doesn’t say that the complexity rating would be used to reject applicants, but that it would help speed up investigations and hiring decisions for applicants. The RFI notes that ICE made 16,000 hiring decisions in FY 2020. Simply cutting back the personnel time required for each of those decisions would have significant manpower and resource implications, and could lead to broader implications across the federal government.
A word of caution…
While scoring the complexity of a clearance applicant could streamline the process, individuals pursuing national security careers should remember that even if their case is complex, their chances of a favorable security clearance determination are still high. Don’t opt out of an application just because you have foreign contacts or significant debt. Keep in mind the government uses the whole person concept to identify reliability and trustworthiness – and that applies to all applicants – even the tough cases.