Over the past several months I’ve heard chatter asking if the security clearance backlog is back. And no, this is not a nightmare scenario inspired by Halloween. Anyone who has been in the national security game for awhile will recall the period approximately five years ago when the backlog of pending security clearance investigations was over 700,000 cases. The reality is that while the pending caseload got a lot of scrutiny, the bigger issue was security clearance processing times – which at the same time hit over 530 days for a Top Secret security clearance – for the fastest 90% of applicants.
Based on the recently released quarterly progress update on Trusted Workforce 2.0, yes, the pending case backlog is seeing a slight increase. A ‘steady state’ is indicated at around 200,000 pending cases in the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) inventory. Today that figure is approximately 220,000-230,000 cases. The PAC PMO update notes a surge in new cases, investigation contract changes, and a September system outage are behind the uptick in case inventory.
A slight growth in the investigations inventory is one thing, but the trend worth tracking is the current increase in security clearance processing times for Top Secret security clearance investigations. In the third quarter of FY 2023 Top Secret clearance processing times increased to 164 days – up from 128 days in the second quarter. That’s a more than one month increase, and if you’re applying for or trying to advance into a job requiring a Top Secret security clearance – one month absolutely matters.
The PAC PMO update notes DCSA is working to mitigate the increases in investigation inventory, but it’s doing so as it also works to jump the hurdle of NBIS implementation and getting all initial investigations transferred from eQIP to eApp.
Pending case inventory is one thing – processing time is another. Hopefully business process improvements or hopefully a surge in investigator capacity can be applied to help address case loads where they’re increasing.