News   Reform

Security Clearance Employees at OPM Get DOD Welcome

July 30, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez

As many as 3,300 employees at the Office of Personnel Management's National Background Investigation Bureau, or NBIB, have received notice they'll be moving to the Defense Department by Sept. 30.

The Office of Personnel Management seal is a circle, with the words “United States — Office of Personnel Management” around the perimeter. On the inside, an eagle is in front of an eight-point star that is surrounded by leaves.
The Office of Personnel Management
The Office of Personnel Management
Photo By: Office of Personnel Management
VIRIN: 190625-O-ZZ999-221
In fact, a senior defense official said, those employees got two letters delivered by email. One was from their current employer, informing them of their move to DOD as part of an official and legal "transfer of function." The second letter came from DOD, welcoming them into the fold.

While those OPM employees will be working for a new organization, a lot of their experience will remain the same.

"With the transfer of their jobs, the grade does not change, the workspace does not change, the supervisor does not change except for a few executives, and the pay stays the same. They are just in a different payroll system," a senior administration official said during a briefing at the Pentagon today.

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The Department of Defense
The Department of Defense
Photo By: Department of Defense
VIRIN: 190625-D-ZZ999-221
The official also said the transfer to DOD and its newly created Defense Counter-Intelligence and Security Agency, or DCSA, will provide new opportunities.

"This is not just an NBIB employee opportunity, this is an everybody-in-DCSA opportunity — an opportunity to have a much broader career opportunity within that framework of the security function that DCSA is picking up," the official said. "That's really the overriding message we're picking up."

A card slides in to a card reader.
CAC Card
A common access card, or CAC, is commonly used by security-cleared personnel to access classified systems.
Photo By: Photo illustration by C. Todd Lopez, DOD
VIRIN: 190624-D-NU123-002C

Executive Order 13896, issued in April, and language in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act have both been drivers to transfer the security clearance processing function from OPM to DOD. Beginning in fiscal year 2020, responsibility for conducting background checks will reside with DCSA.

NBIB employees will officially transfer from OPM to DOD on Sept. 29.

The notification to those employees was just one step needed to transfer NBIB to DOD, a senior defense official said, with about 100 major projects underway, some 480 milestones to be met, and another 2,000 "big tasks" that must be completed to make the transfer a success.

A blue folder bears a red and white cover sheet marked “SECRET.”
Secret Folder
A “secret” cover sheet typically designates a folder that contains classified material that can be viewed only by those with proper clearance. This folder contains no classified material, however, and the cover sheet itself is unclassified.
Photo By: C. Todd Lopez, DOD
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By October, the start of the fiscal year, DOD will be responsible for background investigations for U.S. government personnel and contractors seeking the various security clearances required to do their jobs.

About 4.2 million personnel from the federal government and government contractors are cleared for access to secret and above information. Around 3.6 million of those are DOD employees or contractors.

The decision to move the security clearance function to the DOD is an "economical, business-smart and process-smart solution," a senior defense official said during a June 24 background briefing at the Pentagon.

By October, it's expected that every security clearance investigation will be conducted by DCSA, which will be formed from the existing Defense Security Services and the NBIB.

Fingers move quickly over a keyboard.
Security Clearance
To gain a security clearance, potential employees spend a significant amount of time gathering personal information and entering it into an online web-based system.
Photo By: C. Todd Lopez, DOD
VIRIN: 190624-D-NU123-003C

In early 2018, the NBIB had about 725,000 outstanding security clearance investigations underway, "an all-time high," a senior administration official said. That backlog has dropped to about 410,000, the official added, and expectations are that by the end of the year that backlog will drop to about 300,000. The official also noted that about 200,000 ongoing investigations would be considered normal at any given time.

The agency gets about 50,000 to 55,000 new requests for investigations each week, the official said, though many of those are not for secret or top secret clearances, but rather are for lower-level investigations to determine suitability for federal employment.

About 60% to 65% of security clearance investigations are performed by contractor personnel, and that is not expected to change. Additionally, the senior administration official said, there's no expectation that the new DSCA will need new hires. "The workforce is already there," the official said.

A senior defense official also said the NBIB has been making almost "nonstop" improvements to the process of security clearance investigations, and that those improvements will continue at DOD.