Background Investigations

Deficient Clearance Investigations Returned to OPM

In September 2009 representatives of OMB, OPM, ODNI, and DOD testified before the Senate subcommittee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs regarding security clearance reform. (See 16 Sep 2009 blog topic “Congressional Hearing On Security Clearance Reform.”) Post-Hearing Questions (and answers) for the record were recently published as an appendix to the hearing report.

One of the most interesting questions concerned the number of cases returned to OPM by DOD due to incompleteness. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper’s response on page 93 was illuminating:

In FY 2008, the Department returned approximately 188,483 cases and in FY 2009, the Department returned approximately 129,558 cases. Some cases are returned to OPM due to incompleteness or because they were missing critical expansion of developed issues. Other cases are returned or requested to be reopened because the subject of the case was deployed and could not be reached to complete the subject interview. However, in many instances where investigations received from OPM lack investigative scope items or other necessary information, adjudicators contact the subject or agencies themselves to obtain missing information in order to avoid timeliness delays or to avoid incurring additional costs. The Department does not currently have a means to track those cases.

In FY 2008, the Department was charged approximately $86,303,826 and in FY 2009, $63,104,471 for cases returned to OPM due to incompleteness or with requests for additional information.

Here is OPM Director John Berry’s response on page 90 to a slightly different question:

During FY 2009 of the 2,157,531 investigations closed, 1721 (.08 percent) were reopened due to quality concerns. Of the 1721 investigations reopened, 1362 (79 percent) were conducted by contractors, and 359 (21 percent) by Federal employees. The quality reopen percentages rates trend very closely to the actual workload distribution between contractor and Federal staff.

Clapper’s response addressed only DOD security clearance investigations, which totaled about 650,000 in FY 2009. Berry’s response included all agencies and all types of investigations, including single agency checks. Even if the majority of the cases returned by DOD to OPM were because the subject of the case was deployed, it’s still very difficult to reconcile DOD’s 20% return rate with OPM’s .08% “quality” reopen rate. And in how many cases did DOD adjudicators obtain information by themselves that should have been in the report of investigation?

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar


    How do they rate as deficient? I know alot of reports exist with records and testimonies missing, but most times they really have no adjudicative value–so just wondering.

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    If you recall, a GAO study found that 87% of Top Secret clearance investigations provided by OPM that were adjudicated in July 2008 by DOD were missing one or more elements required by the national investigative standards. Most of the deficiencies in these cases were probably either not adjudicatively significant leads or leads that could not be completed (i.e. neighborhood writeoffs, deployed military supervisors, perhaps even court record checks that were substituted for police record checks). The 20% return rate reported by DOD appears to be cases where the adjudicator could not make a clearance decision because something important was missing, and the adjudicator could not obtain the missing information using an written interrogatory or a telephone interview.

    I think DOD still has an agreement with OPM to automatically pay for any required case expansion, including SPINs. But it all depends on the threshold established for automatic case expansion. If the threshold is set too high or OPM chooses to interpret the threshold (based on some matrix of issue recency/seriousness) as being higher than DOD does, it could cause the return rate to be higher. Obviously if OPM uses a higher threshold for case expansion, they can close a case earlier, and thereby reduce their case completion times. They don’t lose any money because the case will come back as a reopen and they reset the clock on those cases to zero.

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    If the security officer was held accountable for the forms having so many discrepanices, I believe the return rate would be much lower.

    Diane Griffin
    Author: Everything you need to know about the security clearance process, but are afraid to ask.

  4. Avatar


    Thanks–I do vaguely remember the report. Seems as if things are clicking along and for the life of me, I cannot see how this could go any faster. I’m not sure the use of technology will make that much of a difference and, by the time they work “Bugs” of a new system it will take several years. Rumor on the street is OPM may take back as much as 40% of the workload–I cannot confirm this number, but I do know they are taking back more. What has the little “Birdie” told you?

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    BW: The last thing I saw was in the post-hearing Q&A quoted above. OPM stated that over the next 3 years they intend to move up to 400 positions from contractor to federal status. The current split is 2308 federal to 6095 contractor. This includes overhead and support personnel. But with all the talk about insourcing and new definitions for what is “inherently governmental” who knows what will happen.

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    Love the term “Inherently Governmental.” This term is used loosely as the government would come to a halt without contractors in all facets of the mission to include across the DoD….etc….

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    I am totally confused about the hiring for the federal positions. I had put in for one awhile ago, while I was found eligible, I was not interviewed b/c I did not make the top cut. I have been doing this job (well, might I add-easy enough to confirm by looking in the computer) for many years. I met a woman shortly thereafter who was a former federal employee (from the mid-1990’s) who has been out of the work force for 8 years. No experience doing this type of work. She was chosen for an interview. It’s a little mind boggling that federal hiring is so skewed that the weight of someone being a former federal employee outweighs the actual experience of someone doing the job.

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    Contract Inv

    You are not alone here. I will tell you any displaced or RIF’d employees will get priority. Again, who ya know, not what you know. Don’t think for a minute the hiring authority doesn’t do what they want–all they have to do is tweek the scoring sheets and hire at will. Not much recourse because suing the govt is next to impossible since they have endless amounts of OUR money to drag a court case out til the average person runs out of funds to pursue. Also, don’t believe vet status gets you anything. I have 5 campaign medals and have a high VA disability rating, which means SQUAT.

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    William, BW and Contract,
    I have a question for you. There is some rumbling going on in my organization about investigators, review staff and support staff forming a union? What are your thoughts about this? Is it a good idea, bad idea or even possible.

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    I saw and heard this. I think it is a bad idea. I heard names like SEIU…etc.. Watch what you wish for as groups like these do nothing but create trouble for employees and are somewhat corrupt. I understand some folks’ reasons as we all have the same woes, but I’m not sure a union is the way–besides it will also cost each employee fees. I am not a big fan of unions, so I guess my opinion is somewhat skewed. A union would not be beneficial in our business. I’m guessing if one was formed to releive the pressure, they will simply cut salaries and hire more people. Don’t let anyone tell you salaries can’t be cut before a union is formed as the business has the absolute right to do it for survival. Be careful even though the govt is pushing unions.

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    I am a retired federal agent with 20+ yrs and have been working as a contract background investigator since retirement 2 yrs ago. Last year I had a good year, plenty of work and never had a case returned for any reason. I hold three creds and since 2010 I have not had any work? I guess all the work is now being channeled thru OPM either contractor or employee. 6 months ago I was advised by CACI, Int. that to continue work I would have to take a writing test and if selected I would have to pay my way to Colorado for 2 weeks unpaid training to obtain creds for OPM. Then I would have to compete for work. I took the writing test 6 months ago and despite sending 4 emails to inquire about the results, no one has bothered to return my calls or provide the results. This is the bureaucracy we are dealing with.

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    I have not heard this (as a contractor I have pretty limited contact with others). I don’t think I would join. I don’t really see what a union could do for me.

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    I was denied a secret clearance a year ago due to financial considerations. I have since tried working on those issues. I’m in a debt management program and am trying to get things under control. My year for reapplying isn’t up yet but I have a job offer that requires a public trust clearance. Does my secret denial keep me from also applying for the public trust investigation?

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    Larry Reed,

    I have not heard this. I think they may be tightening the training issue. OPM has always funneled work out and then released from contract agency. The dry times for work is now, but will pick-up again in a few weeks to a month. This is a cycle I have seen since starting this work in 2005. Also, I hear OPM will be taking back some work from us contractors, but not sure of the percentage yet. Hang in there as you can tell this business has its share of bumpy rides.

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    There are rumors going around our company that your company and mine are in merger talks. What do you know?

  16. Avatar


    Heard nothing, but I am going there in 3 weeks and will be asking alot of questions about alot of things. I have a hard time believing it will happen as it may seem like a monopoly, which is frowned on in the business world. I will definitely let you know (Privately) what I find out–and please do the same. I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen as we both know the way things are in this business. If no competition, we will be hung-out to dry on alot of issues.

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    Will do. Also have you heard about the Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act of 2010 (H.R.5300) – which would provide safeguards with respect to the FBI criminal background checks prepared for employment purposes – would require the attorney general to find out from court offices, even those in state and local jurisdictions, the outcome of arrests when an employer requests a background check. This will be a good thing.

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    Sounds like a fair bill. It may also add some more job security for us. The companies that conduct checks do not do any local inquiries for sure. I cannot believe people pay for a check on a national level and never check for local warrants….etc….

  19. Avatar

    I’m not a fan of unions either, especially for professional workers. But there are situations where a union is needed to keep employers honest. As a former federal employee there was nothing I could do to correct obvious workplace inequities. During my time with DSS, most investigators were forced to work overtime for less than straight-time pay, because we were classified as “exempt” employees. This was eventually changed by a federal class action lawsuit in about 2005, but it did little to compensate us for the hundreds of hours of overtime each of us worked over the years. Rather than joining an established union or forming a new union, I think the first step is to create a strong professional association of federal contract investigators. I don’t know much about the 2 existing associations, but I suspect their membership is small and their influence is very limited.

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    No, your security clearance denial does not preclude you from applying for a Public Trust position. But getting a Public Trust position isn’t any easier than getting a security clearance.

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    No merger–USIS is set to buy Kroll. We are a stand-alone company now so not involved in purchase.

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    I was employed as a contractor for a Government agency and then switched jobs. Now in JPAS the Government agency put a “loss of jurisdiction” because they said I left before my investigation could be adjudicated. Can the Agency do that even though I was employed as a contractor and the contracting company held my Clearance. What can I tell my current employer to do because they seemed to be confused about the whole thing and I can be out of a job and without a clearance!

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    The loss of jurisdiction simply means you no longer work for the same company or agency. Have your new company, assuming it’s a contractor have DISCO order the case for adjudication. It will have to be done by your Security Officer/Manager. It can be done in JPAS, that is, if you are still on a DoD contract.

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    I am in this position. I was deployed, in Afghanistan, for a year, under and interim, I had an investigation, while I was working in Germnay. I redeployed and they closed my case because I was in Afghanistan and recommended reopening the case when I returned to the states.

    Meanwhile somehow my interim got canceled and I was sent home from Afghanistan.

    My file says recommend reopening the case when he returns to the US for investigation.

    How would I go about doing that?