Trusted Workforce 2.0 remains the benchmark upon which the state of personnel security progress is judged today. Having accomplished its critical objective of reducing the 700,000 backlog of pending security clearance background investigations and reducing clearance process times from averages that crept over 500 days, technology is the focus area for much of the efforts today.
Leaders from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA), and industry came together to discuss the state of personnel security in a webinar hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.
The National Background Investigation Services (NBIS) remains the elephant in the room – but it’s one that knows how to do a few tricks, as it lumbers forward with implementation, enabling eApp, the much anticipated replacement for the eQIP online application, and for industry to utilize the platform for the initiation stage of security clearance background investigations. 83 out of 103 federal agencies working with DCSA have been completely onboarded, emphasized Jeff Smith, Program Executive Officer in charge of DCSA’s NBIS program.
“There has been a fundamental push to bring industry into case initiation,” said Smith.
Technology has often been blamed for a lack of improvement around the security clearance process in the past- but looking to the future, and as NBIS continues to integrate new data streams, technology will be the enabler.
“It is not a technology question anymore,” said Mary Rose McCaffrey, vice president of security at Northrop Grumman.
The rollout of eApp and improvements in the case initiation can’t come fast enough for employers looking to onboard. While much is made of layoffs across the commercial sector today, that doesn’t mean a 1-1 correlation of employees willing to enter the government sector.
“The labor market today is driving interest in people wanting or not wanting to work in a classified environment,” said McCaffrey. “If they have to wait 18 months, they can go somewhere else.”
The decision point today, said McCaffrey, is how quickly can a risk decision be made, and within CE and CV, how can employees move more easily across contracts and agencies. Because: “They are moving if they’re not happy with their employer,” said McCaffrey.
Reciprocity and transfer of trust are aspects of Trusted Workforce 2.0 – and ones supported in both policy and process.
“One of the tenants of Trusted Workforce is to improve speed and mobility,” said Matt Eanes, director of the Performance Accountability Council’s Program Management Office. Reciprocity is one piece of that. The hope is that eApp’s integration of information will continue to consolidate trust in the system, and hopefully lead to enhanced reciprocity between agencies as more are onboarded into the new system of record.
One area where reciprocity isn’t a struggle is for agencies going into the DoD. Heather Green, director of DCSA’s Vetting Risk Office said reciprocity into DoD is now averaging just a single day. That’s a significant drop from the month(s) or more lag that was common pre-Trusted Workforce.
“We are making progress,” said Green. “I can see it; I can feel it.”
Eanes noted stats around topics like reciprocity and current clearance processing times are released by PAC PMO through their quarterly updates.
He said the government is committed to keeping the production lines moving quickly, but has to be responsive to data that isn’t (currently) captured and exposed by the systems. “Sometimes the process slows itself down because we need to look for a small piece of information,” said Eanes.
The good news with Trusted Workforce 2.0 changes and the move to CV and the five-year interval to updating information is the government is moving faster with getting the right data into the right repository while being able to identify – and even more critically, address – risks. It’s “taking smaller bets instead of bigger bets,” said Eanes. It’s a vetting process that’s more intuitive and insightful – along with more exacting.
And as all of the wickets continue to move forward, it’s also more integrated. The partnerships between government and industry will always be a work in progress, but today there are more conversations and more understanding about the importance of getting industry into systems not just when they’re fully baked, but as they’re being built.
“Industry makes up a big partner of what federal agencies are trying to accomplish,” said McCaffrey. “Fail early, fail often, and do it with industry because there’s usually a little more resiliency.”
The whole person aspect of the security clearance process has always emphasized that there aren’t perfect people -but the need for a risk-based approach that mitigates risks rather than eliminating them. As Trusted Workforce 2.0 continues to roll-out with an iterative, integrated model, it’s embracing the same concept – there may not be a perfect process – but by making steady changes over time, there is one that is growing continually better.