All Security Clearances Officially Move to DOD

In an executive order signed on April 24, President Trump moved all background investigations for security clearances to the Department of Defense (DOD), a long-anticipated action. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 (NDAA), the DOD was given expanded control over the security clearance process. Rather than having the process remain split between the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the DOD, this executive order transfers the entire process to one agency.

Currently, per the NDAA, the DOD handles security clearances for individuals working in their department, about 70 percent of cases. The remaining 30 percent of civilian agency clearances remain under the management of OPM and the National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB). The NBIB was created under President Obama following a 2015 OPM breach comprising the sensitive information of more than 21 million current and prospective federal employees and contractors.

At the time, the DOD was tasked with supporting the NBIB in building and managing underlying IT systems through the Defense Security Service.

The Trump administration has been planning to move the entire process to the DoD’s Defense Security Service for months. FEDagent previously reported on the issue in December 2018. Wednesday’s executive order codified this move and changed the name of the Security Service to the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA).

President Trump wrote in the order, “[N]o later than June 24, 2019, the DCSA shall serve as the primary entity for conducting effective, efficient and secure background investigations for the federal government for determining whether covered individuals are or continue to be eligible for access to classified information or eligible to hold a sensitive position.”

The NBIB will continue to process background investigations through the transition but will stop no later than September 30. Over 2,000 employees will be moved from the NBIB to the DCSA.

In order to prevent another information breach, the DOD Secretary will play a leading role in maintaining the underlying technology for the system.

“The Secretary of Defense shall design, develop, deploy, operate, secure, defend and continuously update and modernize, as necessary, information technology systems that support all personnel vetting processes conducted by the Department of Defense,” the order explains.

As of January 2019, the NBIB was plagued with a backlog of over 500,000 security clearances, an issue this move could mitigate.

The president writes, “Implementing that [NDAA] mandate while retaining the benefit of economies of scale in addressing the federal government's background investigations workload, avoiding unnecessary risk, promoting the ongoing alignment of efforts with respect to vetting federal employees and contractors, and facilitating needed reforms in this critical area requires that the primary responsibility for conducting background investigations government-wide be transferred from the Office of Personnel Management to the Department of Defense.”

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