Defense Department and Office of Personnel Management officials continue to make progress on the security clearance backlog even as they move forward with merging the National Background Investigations Bureau into DOD.
Garry Reid, DOD’s director for defense intelligence, and Charles S. Phalen Jr., the NBIB director, testified before the House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee Dec. 12.
Reid said DOD continues to work with interagency partners to transfer the functions, personnel and resources of the bureau to the Defense Security Service. The service will be responsible for conducting background investigations. OPM previously held this responsibility.
Speeding Up the Clearance Process
In addition, Reid’s organization put in place changes to the process to speed clearance procedures and cut down the backlog of pending requests. “Overall, these new measures have helped reduce the inventory of DOD investigations by almost 18 percent over the past four months,” he said in written testimony to the subcommittee. “We will build on this work in the coming months – continuing to focus on backlog reduction as we develop detailed plans for the transfer and transition.”
DOD has roughly 1.1 million personnel enrolled in the Continuous Evaluation Program. “We are planning to expand enrollment to encompass the entire population eligible for access to classified information or to hold a sensitive position by fiscal year 2021,” he said.
The Defense Security Service worked extensively to realign the bureau’s functions, personnel, and resources. “We will soon establish a Personnel Vetting Transformation Office to develop detailed transfer plans and facilitate implementation,” he said.
The office will also examine cutting-edge technology to alleviate the burdens of costly, time-intensive investigations. “We acknowledge the key challenges ahead and are prepared to address any obstacles that arise including logistics, budget, human resources and cultural issues,” Reid said.
Tackling the Backlog
Right now, the bureau handles 95 percent of the background investigations within the federal government. “At its peak in April 2018, NBIB’s inventory was at approximately 725,000 investigative products, including simple record checks, suitability and credentialing investigations and more labor-intensive national security investigations,” Phalen said. “Today, our inventory is at 605,000 investigative products, a reduction of over 16 percent, and we continue to reduce the ‘backlog’ by an average of 3,000 – 4,000 cases every week.”
This is happening while the number of cases the bureau receives has increased over the past few months to about 55,000 per week. “We not only managed to keep up, but have surpassed our case closures at approximately 59,000 per week, enabling the inventory to decrease,” he said. “We project we will continue to reduce inventory for the foreseeable future at an accelerating rate.”
He noted that of the current backlog, 190,000 are for initial secret clearances and 90,000 are for initial top secret investigations. As of Nov. 5, 112,000 of those persons awaiting an initial secret or top secret investigation -- or about 40 percent -- have been granted interim clearances by their agencies while the bureau completes the overall investigation.