Personnel vetting has gone through a transformation over the past several years – literally. Performance Accountability Council (PAC) Program Management Office (PMO) Director Matt Eanes shared with NSI IMPACT 2023 attendees the magnitude of changes that have been made to policy and implementation – almost simultaneously. Eanes highlighted the group’s quarterly updates on to maintain transparency, and encouraged the packed room to email him personally with any questions.

The personnel vetting process hasn’t rested on its laurels over the past several months, even as it emphasizes the significant accomplishment of eliminating the backlog of pending clearance investigations, reducing inventory, and rolling out policy and the Continuous Vetting program. Changes continue to roll out with updates to national training standards for suitability and future security adjudication training on the way. The current security clearance processing forms including the SF-86 are also being overhauled into the new and improved Personnel Vetting Questionnaire (PVQ).

“All four of the current forms are being consolidated into one questionnaire with the PVQ,” said Eanes.  Applicants will only fill out the questions required for their level of vetting, and the questionnaire has undergone a plain language review to make certain it is easy to understand.  The form has been simplified with some questions removed as unnecessary, other questions merged, and better instructions included throughout. Eanes said that the “form makes it clear that the whole person concept still applies.” The new form helps address continued confusion about drugs and marijuana by not only separating marijuana use from the drug-use question and putting it in its own question, but also reminding applicants of the laws and what the government is looking for.

The PVQ is still under review and implementation timelines will be identified later this year.

Eanes noted that CV for federal employees in Public Trust positions and contractor employees in fitness positions will begin next year. In 2024, there will also be more software updates, with new investigative products by 2025.

Moonshot Goals

Eanes requested feedback from security professionals as updates continue to roll out. The systems and policies have undergone a major transformation, and future improvements require ongoing feedback.

Currently, the government reports on the fastest 90% vetting decisions, but a future move announced at the recent U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will measure 100% of vetting decisions. And they’re making a shift to begin measurement when the application phase begins, as the current process begins measurement after the application is submitted and the investigation scheduled. Despite increasing the scope for the measurement, PAC Chair Jason Miller shared that the new target goal is 25 days for low risk, 40 days for moderate risk, and 75 days for high risk. This shift would be a signification reduction from the current statistics.

At the hearing, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja also shared a new metric they’re looking to add, called favorable to onboard, with even faster targets that will measure from application to when the government confirms an individual as favorable to onboard. Eanes discussed that the new end-to-end and favorable to onboard goals are big, but that’s where it has to begin. It’s like thinking about going to the moon. He said if you don’t think about the possibilities first, you never actually get there.

Trusted Workforce 2.0

DCSA VRO Assistant Director Heather Green said that TW 2.0 is the next step, but right now, with the fastest 90%, a Top Secret clearance is taking 125 days and Secret is 79-80 days. Interim Secret clearance processing times are just 7-10 days currently.

Green said that everyone in national security positions is now enrolled in CV, this past year, they saw 13,000-14,000 actionable alerts, which is about a 2% alert rate. Green encouraged the security professionals in the room to push for more self reporting. If an issue has already been reported, the system can move on. And the benefit of CV is that it can be used as a monitoring tool. In other words, when a clearance holder has previously run into a problem, the system can have parameters set to monitor individuals for a designated period to see if issues pop up. Green said these system capabilities allow individuals to maintain their security clearance and prove an ongoing level of trust. While Periodic Reinvestigations are a thing of the past, Green reminded of the need for an updated SF-86 at the five-year mark to update information in the system. In the future, Green said there will be a self reporting module for clearance holders to update information.

Green also noted that they’re conducting a pilot to look at expediting risk decisions. They hope to see some evolution in the determination process that will help to ensure making the correct decision upfront.

Moving to NBIS

DCSA NBIS Executive Director Jeff Smith shared that the e-QIP to eApp transition is in full court press right now, with all agencies and industry planned to move into eApp by end of the fiscal year. He confirmed that they will not sunset any of the existing legacy systems before NBIS is ready, but security professionals should be prepared because things are in the works now. He encouraged everyone to be prepared for the transition and get training as it rolls out.

Smith said that right now, over 70,000 cases are moving through the system. But there will be a June release and then an end of fiscal year release. With an agile program, the team will continue to update the software to keep pace with trends, changes, and policy adjustments. This allows for more capabilities to be added to the system over time.

Mental Health and National Security

Mental health questions bubbled up as a key question or concern from the audience. Eanes closed the session, saying, “In regards to mental health, people are our most important asset. None of your workforce should feel like they can’t get help. This has been a 20-year journey to destigmatize this issue.” He and Green confirmed that it’s extremely rare for clearances to be revoked due to mental health and it’s in only extreme situations. Mental health treatment or counseling shouldn’t hold anyone back. In fact, seeking treatment or counseling is viewed as positive step in the adjudicative process and is used to mitigate concerns.  Green reminded everyone that May is mental health awareness month. It’s important for them understand the value of seeking help – and how the federal government views that in a positive light.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.