Security Clearance Process

Congress Aims to Cut Investigation Backlog to 300,000 by Next Spring

In the continuing security clearance reform saga, the Senate Intelligence Committee is working on coming to an agreement on the final version of a bill first introduced in last March that is aimed at reducing the background investigation backlog. The previous version of the bill stalled in the senate during a June vote. If the proposed current version of the bill is passed, one of the major provisions in it would require 90 percent of ‘Secret” clearance investigations be processed within 30 days and 90 percent of “Top Secret” clearance investigations be processed within 90 days. Another of the bill’s major provisions would require NBIB/DoD to whittle down the current 600,000+ backlog of investigations to around 200,000 by the end of next year.

All of this comes amid plans to shift the majority of the investigation responsibilities over from the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) to the Department of Defense (DoD). Both agencies are preparing the transfer ahead of an executive order by the Trump administration that is in the works. In an August 2018 interview current NBIB Director, Charles Phalen, said he supports the decision for the complete shift of investigative responsibilities to the Pentagon, as it would aid in the goal of being “one team, no speedbumps.”

In another part of the reform process, the Defense Security Service is in the middle of the process of moving clearance and investigation data from the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS) over to the Defense Information System for Security (DISS). Once fully deployed, DISS will serve as the system of record to perform comprehensive personnel security, suitability and credential eligibility management for all military, civilian, and DOD contractor personnel. DISS provides secure communications between Adjudicators, Security Officers and Component Adjudicators in support of eligibility and access management.


  1. The issue continues to be the difficulty in completing cases in the timelines set by Congress.

    The field investigation process has not changed. The timelines for federal law enforcement agencies response for records have not changed. The security questionnaire intake has not changed. The rules for the federal agencies, DoD components, and contracting companies cooperation during the investigation have not changed. Reciprocity enforcement hasn’t changed. The investigation computer system processing system (PIPS) from the 1970s hasn’t changed. The funding hasn’t changed Only the demand that the work be completed quickly.

    No one has seriously asked the field workers (agents or contractors) about the road blocks from the agencies and contract companies that requested the investigations, let alone from schools, medical providers, non-contractor employers, and non-federal law enforcement agencies.

    Basically, “legalizing” these arbitrary deadline dates is similar to a beating the mule for not properly plowing the 100 acre farm in one day. If Congress wants a clearances in 30 to 90 days, then give the investigating agency the teeth (cooperation laws), funding (IT and manning), and tools (processes) to gather the information quickly.

  2. It almost sounds like a move from “may issue” to “must issue” . . . If you can’t find enough negative material on a candidate in 30 days, your really not likely to find much going forward. The way to make the dates more realistic to push forward those files that are unlikely to be denied to the front of the queue and get them out of the way quickly. We learned in logic and computer science that the way to reduce the average time spent waiting is to process the shorter jobs first and make the others wait instead of processing first in, first out.

    If you have two files and one will take two weeks to process and the other two month, it makes no sense to make the first wait for the second to complete before starting it.

  3. As a former investigator, I guarantee you nothing has changed on the administrative and company side. All they are going to do is tell the investigators to hurry up and do the base minimum to get the cases out. Corners will be cut.

  4. I predict there will be NEW HEARINGS on why the process as being put forward hasn’t worked. Just give it a year.

  5. I also predict that there will be new hearings about why people with serious integrity, behavioral, foreign, and criminal issues are getting clearances.

    The process can be improved. We can even do it intelligently if we tried to build the process up instead of down.