The National Background Investigations Services (NBIS) is the next major step in security clearance reform efforts. Continuous vetting (CV) was rolled out across the DoD population, and the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) is also providing CV services to 38 non-defense agencies. Trusted Workforce 1.25 vetting measures are quickly being advanced into Trusted Workforce 1.5, which provides an expanded number of alerts.

Underpinning an improved application and continuous vetting process is NBIS, DCSA’s answer to the OPM legacy system it inherited when it took over the personnel and industrial security mission in 2019. The NBIS roll-out has faced delays as DCSA has looked to incorporate so many systems together; it will include more than 70 disparate systems when fully functional.

While much of NBIS – similar to the roll-out of CV – will be invisible to the average clearance applicant, there is one aspect that will not be – and that has the power to make the clearance process fundamentally better. That’s eApp, the replacement for the eQIP, online SF-86 application. While eQIP has been an improvement over the days of filling out an 100+ page security clearance application by hand (yes, that used to be done), in the days of Amazon and auto-fill, clearance applicants have long demanded a more improved, intuitive clearance application system. And that’s where NBIS has the power to change and improve the clearance process for everyone who has their hands in the system, from security officers to State Department interns. Here are five specific aspects of eApp that clearance applicants should be eager to experience.

1. Two-factor authentication.

Now the industry standard, the new eApp will incorporate dual factor authentication for log in. I mean, I wish someone would hack into my SF-86 to fill it out, but dual factor authentication is one key that NBIS is committed to keeping data safer. Following the OPM hack, security clearance holders are naturally jaded about the government’s ability to keep their data safe. Any measure that can be taken to keep that data more secure is a step in the right direction.

2. Self-service password resets.

There are two types of people – those who remember their passwords and those who forget them as soon as they enter them into the system. Filling out an SF-86 is nerve-wracking enough – imagine being the applicant who has to reach out to your security officer on one of your first days on the job and request a password reset because you’ve forgotten it. Or imagine being the security officer who has to field those request. Over. And over. A modern IT system has modern features that give users the right capabilities and save admins time for the more critical function.

3. Validating addresses by USPS Data.

Anyone who has purchased an item online sees the value in being able to have an address edited via accurate USPS data. This is also a critical step in helping applicants avoid the types of errors that result in clearance delays and wasted background investigator time. Having the wrong address can result in field work being sent to the wrong location and can front load an investigation with weeks of delays just chasing down the accurate location.

4. Built-in Logic for Error Correction.

The gum shoe, human element of the security clearance process, will never completely go away. But a common complaint about the security clearance process is just how manual it is, and how much human effort is required. Critical to NBIS are elements of AI and automation, and one baseline way it does this is by helping to identify errors an applicant may be making as they go, such as incorrect dates or missing information. Much of the information required is linear. But right now, applicants may make simple errors in leaving out data or filling out something incorrectly. In many cases a facility security officer manually reviews the data to ensure these types of errors don’t go forward with the submitted application. But reviewing a 100-page document for errors isn’t without potential pitfalls. eApp aims to reduce those.

5. Auto-saving.

Hell hath no fury like an applicant who filled out a section of germane life history only to walk away from their computer and realize the information hadn’t automatically saved. Nothing screams legacy tech like a tech system that can’t auto-save data at regular intervals. The new, improved eApp includes auto-save features designed to reduce applicant headaches and heartache.

These improvements focus on eApp, the most forward facing aspect of NBIS. The reality is once NBIS is fully operational it will represent  complete overhaul of the technology used to manage personnel security. An operational NBIS will cost $130 million to maintain – in contrast to the $200 million it costs to maintain the OPM legacy system. Once online, in operational costs alone the government looks to save $70 million. Overall, the savings will include time, money, and reputation.

“There’s no question our personnel security mission has improved, both in speed and quality,” said William Lietzau, director of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, speaking to an audience of security professionals at the annual NCMS Seminar in Minneapolis. “We just lowered prices for the third time. We’re saving the taxpayer money. We’re faster, we’re better quality, and we’re cheaper…I don’t think there’s anything I’m prouder of than what we’re doing in this area now.”

 

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.