Security Clearance Backlog Dwindles
Members of the federal community are celebrating a cross-agency priority (CAP) report which praises the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) for significant reductions in the security clearance backlog. The NBIB has reduced the backlog by nearly 40 percent and is within reach of a steady state in less than a year.
The June 2019 Performance Accountability Council (PAC) CAP goals update noted the reduction in the backlog and advancements in e-adjudication and personnel vetting. The report also noted improvements in the overall processing time for clearances.
The report comes as Defense Department officials move forward with plans to transfer the entire background investigations process under their wing. An executive order signed in April required the Department of Defense and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to confirm transfer plans before June 24. The NBIB announced in May that the transition would be complete by October 1.
The Pentagon announced on Monday that current NBIB Director Charles Phalen would serve as acting director of the newly formed Defense Security and Counterintelligence Agency.
Phalen has told media groups that he hopes the transition will be seamless, saying “Our absolute goal in this – us here at OPM, at Defense Security Service, and everybody else who cares about this – is to avoid speed bumps. On October 2, when you wake up, all you can tell is that we’ll have a different T-shirt on. And we’re not even sure we’re gonna do that.”
According to the CAP the background investigation backlog is down to 433,000 from a 2018 peak of 725,000.
Charlie Sowell, chief operating officer of iWorks and the National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee representative for the Professional Services Council, praised NBIB for moving in the right direction. Sowell has claimed that while the processing time is still far too long, as the agency works to get complex cases resolved the overall processing time for clearances should begin to improve.
The NBIB was also commended in the CAP report for providing the PAC with a recommendation for the expansion of continuous vetting across the entire federal workforce to regularly review personnel backgrounds to determine whether they meet applicable requirements. This milestone was due to be achieved by September 2019 but has already been completed.
While individuals like Sowell and Phalen admit there is must progress to be made, the agencies have made significant progress.
“We aren’t where we need to be on that [timeliness]. We’re pretty open about that. I’m not very happy about that, but what I can tell you is that we are seeing…the median number [of processing times] move precipitously to the good, to the left. As much as 25% or 35% as far as timeliness – and sometimes more, in some cases. So that’s going in the right direction and I’m fairly comfortable that as we move to our steady state of 200,000, those numbers will move or be better than the numbers that we are supposed to be meeting, and that would be across the board for all of the case types that we do,” Phalen said. “I’m happy with where we’re going but I know we’re just not there yet.”
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