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DoD to Transfer Background Investigations to OPM

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2003 – Just over 1,800 Defense Security Service investigators will transfer to the Office of Personnel Management under a new DoD-OPM agreement, defense officials said.

The move, effective Oct. 1, will give the Defense Department more flexibility and will save money.

Carol Haave, deputy assistant secretary of defense for security and information operations, said the process of individuals getting background security checks will speed up.

The Defense Security Service is responsible for roughly 1 million background security checks each year. Two years ago, the service had a backlog of around 500,000 cases. The wait time for a secret or top secret clearance reached up to 18 months.

"The question became how do we fix it?" Haave said. The investigators at the Defense Security Service were doing a heroic job. Haave said the investigators were driving themselves and putting in a lot of overtime. Still, there was only so much they could do.

OPM helped DSS to whittle down the backlog. As the two agencies worked together, DoD was examining how to speed up the process and make it more thorough. But institutional improvements only worked on the margins, Haave said.

At the same time, DoD officials looked at the department's core missions and decided performing background checks wasn't one. "As we got deeper into the analysis, what we came to find was there was a great synergy that could be had between the Office of Personnel Management and DSS," Haave said.

Each agency has its own information technology system and management systems. Combining them all into a single system would cut down on duplication and save money through cost avoidance, Haave said. Also, she said, the two agencies found they complemented each other.

"We have resources where OPM has few, and they have resources where we don't have that much," she said. This means less money spent on travel and overtime.

While OPM would take over the background investigations, DoD would retain "quality control" over the process. The defense service and OPM already operate to the same national standard.

The transfer of the investigators to OPM will be transparent to them, Haave said. "The way we think it will happen is OPM will basically provide them 'offer letters' of employment at their same locations, their same grades and status," she said. "Their paycheck will simply come from OPM and not the Department of Defense."

DoD will start purchasing services from OPM in fiscal 2004. "We are in the process right now of implementing a transition plan in cooperation with OPM to look at how we would transfer cases and when we will start doing that," Haave said. "We don't have all the details worked out yet, but we're in the process over the next 30 days of doing that plan."

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