Reform

AI Could Speed Background Investigations

April 8, 2019 | BY David Vergun

Mark Nehmer, the technical director for research and development and technology transfer at the Defense Security Service's National Background Investigative Services, recently spoke about the ways artificial intelligence could help speed up background investigations.

A soldier looks on as other troops type into laptops.
Cyber Exercise
Army 2nd Lt. Josue Herrera, with the Michigan Army National Guard’s Cyber Team, looks over his soldiers as they compete in the Michigan cyber range exercise during the International Cyber Summit at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Oct. 29, 2018.
Photo By: Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Helen Miller
VIRIN: 181029-Z-WX809-001

Nehmer told attendees at the "Genius Machines: The New Age of Artificial Intelligence" event that AI could help reduce existing backlogs and ease the strain on overworked investigators. The event, hosted March 29 by Nextgov and Defense One in Arlington, Virginia, was a wide-ranging discussion of the implications of the use of AI in fields such as intelligence, counterterrorism, health care and logistics.

Key Points:

1
Millions of service members, federal employees and contractors undergo background checks on a periodic basis — every 15 years for a confidential clearance, 10 years for a secret, and five for a top secret — but an employer can request a background investigation at any time for cause or suspected cause.
2
About 1.1 million personnel are enrolled in the Continuous Evaluation Program, which is just what it sounds like — a continuous assessment of security clearances. DOD officials have said they plan to have all cleared personnel in the program by 2021.
3
Background investigations "are the first line of defense against insider threats to safeguard the integrity and trustworthiness of the federal workforce," according to the homepage of the National Background Investigations Bureau, which conducts 95 percent of the government's background investigations.
4
NBIB now falls under the Office of Personnel Management, but its functions, personnel and resources are being transferred to the Defense Department's Defense Security Service.
5
Background investigations include but are not limited to: criminal record checks, credit checks and interviews with people the individual knows — such as neighbors.
6
It can take a few months to more than a year for a clearance to be issued, depending on the scope of the investigation.
7
In the future, artificial intelligence could augment the background investigative work performed by humans, cutting the time it takes and providing a more realistic and in-depth profile of the individual.