A bill recently passed the House that would require the Office of Personnel Management’s National Background Investigations Bureau to provide routine reports on the backlog of security clearance investigations.
This is part of an ongoing effort to streamline the security clearance process and make it more transparent, while shrinking the “backlog of more than 700,000 federal employees, applicants and contractors awaiting background checks for government jobs,” according to Nextgov.
If passed, the SECRET Act of 2017 gives the NBIB 90 days to report on the backlog of security clearance investigations by sharing the size of the backlog and the average length of time it takes to complete the initial investigation, as well as periodic investigations. It would be required to continue reporting quarterly for the next five years.
The bill calls for the NBIB to “report on the process for conducting and adjudicating security clearance investigations for personnel in the Executive Office of the President,” the Nextgov article stated.
It also requires the NBIB to report on the duplicative costs of implementing a plan for the Defense Security Service to conduct security investigations for Department of Defense personnel whose investigations are adjudicated by DOD’s Consolidated Adjudication Facility.
A proposed amendment to the bill adds detail to the reporting requirement by requiring that the NBIB report on how many interim clearances it has granted, as well as specify the number of investigations and reinvestigations of federal employees and contractors, DOD employees and contractors, and the number of federal employees conducting background investigations, among other items. It requires the NBIB director to list the steps being taken to reduce the backlog.
The amendment also would require agencies to report on how they’re implementing reciprocity and continuous evaluation in their clearance process, according to Nextgov. Currently, federal employees must go through a new background investigation when they move from one agency to another.
“Under a reciprocity standard, specific types of clearances would be transferable between agencies, much like one state accepts driver’s licenses issued in any of the others,” the article stated.
This bill isn’t the only proposed solution to the backlog. The Department of Defense has submitted a plan to Congress to handle the security clearance process for its own employees, which make up a majority of the total checks, because it already has a great deal of the infrastructure in place to do so, according to a separate Nextgov article.
Some argue that allowing the DOD to conduct its own background investigations would make the process more sluggish because it would just duplicate services already available elsewhere, the article stated.
The security clearance backlog increased significantly in 2014 when the Office of Personnel Management terminated its contract with USIS. At that time, USIS conducted more than half of the government’s background checks. Federal officials also tightened the background check process following the Edward Snowden leaks, Nextgov reported. This resulted in potential employees and contractors having to wait months to start work.
It takes approximately four months for an applicant to receive a secret clearance designation. For those who require a top secret clearance to perform their jobs, the investigation process takes up to 10 months.