Hiring more investigators and developing innovative tools has helped address the backlog of security clearance investigations that has plagued the National Background Investigations Bureau for some time.

However, those improvements haven’t given the NBIB a clearer picture of when it will be caught up, according to a recent Nextgov article.

Current wait times for those who have applied for security clearance are more than 200 days for top secret clearance, but the goal is 80 days. The goal is 40 days for secret level investigations, but they’re averaging 105 days. Some security clearance online forums suggest that the backlog could be worse than what is officially reported.

One Security Clearance Jobs forum participant wrote in January: “…some investigators there say they are getting cases that are one year old… that is, one year since they were first opened. These investigators can’t tell if anyone else has worked the case but it does give you some idea of the true magnitude of the backlog.”

Washington Technology reported in March that according to the Office of Management and Budget, the backlog increased more than 22 percent from February 2016 to September 2016. Officials reported during a congressional hearing in February 2017 that the backlog was “more than half a million investigations.” 

Some slated improvements are expected to significantly improve the investigation process. For example, the bureau expects to have access to real-time arrest information from multiple databases to check against records of cleared employees by the end of 2018, Jim Onusko, director of the bureau’s Federal Investigative Records Enterprise, told Nextgov.

Onusko also said the bureau is working on a pilot program “to monitor employee social media for red flags,” Nextgov reported.

Eliminating the backlog is important because new military and civilian personnel, as well as employees of private contractors working for the government are in limbo while awaiting their investigations to be completed. They are unable to perform their full duties without proper clearance, according to the Washington Technology article. That means essential work may go unperformed.

Contractors often are the most severely affected by the investigation backlog, because government employees and political appointees get approved first. But contracts often carry completion deadlines, so investigation delays easily can cause deadlines to be missed because positions can’t be filled and new hires can’t be cleared for access fast enough.

“Perhaps the most frustrating part of all this is that there isn’t a lot an applicant can do to expedite the clearance process,” says security clearance lawyer Catie Young.

But there is one important thing within the applicant’s control: Complete the SF-86 correctly and in its entirety the first time, Young says.

The most common reasons for rejecting applications are due to missing employment information, missing social security numbers for spouses, missing information on relatives, and incomplete information regarding debts or bankruptcy, to name a few examples.

It’s a good idea to consult a security clearance attorney when completing the application to help ensure these simple mistakes are avoided.