Background Investigations

GAO Blasts OPM on Cost of Security Clearance Investigations

The General Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report on the cost of “Background Investigations” (GAO-12-197) conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  The first sentence of the report declared:

OPM’s reported costs to conduct background investigations increased by almost 79 percent, from about $602 million in fiscal year 2005 to almost $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2011 (in fiscal year 2011 dollars).

The news media chose to publish articles that focused on the overall increase in the amount spent on background investigations, rather than the actual increase in the price of various investigative products offered by OPM.  It’s not until you get down to page 47 of the GAO report that you see the weighted average price increase for investigative products only went up 5.1% per year from 2005 to 2012.  2005 and 2006 were transition years for OPM.  In 2005 OPM accepted the transfer of about 1,700 Defense Security Service personnel and the responsibility for all Department of Defense (DOD) background investigations.  During 2004 OPM had conducted a portion of DOD’s background investigations and knew that their existing price structure wouldn’t cover the actual cost of these investigations, so they entering into a special agreement with DOD whereby OPM charged DOD an extra 25% over their standard prices.  The DOD investigations increased OPM’s caseload by 200%.  OPM was able to readjust their prices down a little in 2006.  If you back out the two transition years of 2005 and 2006, OPM increased their average weighted price of investigations about 4% per year during the past five years.  This was a pretty remarkable feat considering that they significantly reduced turnaround time on their investigations during the same period.

It’s a fallacy to ascribe to OPM the increase in the total cost of all investigations, because OPM has no control over the number or types of investigations they are requested to conduct.  GAO also claimed that the total cost of OPM investigations continued to gradually increase from 2005 to 2011, even though the number of investigations conducted by OPM declined about 30% from 2008 to 2011.  But GAO failed to report the types of investigations that OPM had conducted.  When a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) at $4,005 costs about 14 times more than a National Agency Check with Law and Credit (NACLC) at $228, an increase in the number of expensive investigations can more than offset a large decease in the total number of cheaper investigations.

GAO doesn’t always get it right, and in my opinion this is one of those times that they got it wrong.  There may very well be cost accounting and lack of transparency problems at OPM, but GAO failed to focus on these issues.

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    Nice article..

  2. Avatar

    The GAO really screwed the pooch on this one.

  3. Avatar

    Great f*cking article! I saw the original report a few days ago and knew it was bull. Just didn’t know why it was bull.

    Thanks for the knowledge!

  4. Avatar

    Ditto to what Fed said. I really appreciate seeing the other side of the story.

  5. Avatar


    You misspelled the second word 🙂

  6. Avatar


    That’s how I spell it in my ROI’s.


  7. Avatar

    There were other problems with the GAO report, but I wanted to focus on the cost of investigations, because that was the part of the report the media was parroting. I’m not a big fan of OPM, and I think there are legitimate criticisms GAO could have made.

  8. Avatar

    Well my company finally realized they were losing too many investigators so they have made it worth the while of some investigators, to include myself, to stay on with them.

  9. Avatar

    I have a “no determination made”on my NACI in JPAS from Airforce contract position. I left the position in 2010. Got hired by GSA, got an MBI in november 2011. Got rehired by Airforce in 2011 and AFCAF wont adjudicate MBI. Want to re run me for the lower NACI. Any advise on how to rectify this? This has been a nightmare. The MBI is higher than the NACI. MBI in CVS. NACI in JPAS.

  10. Avatar


    Your legend lives on at OPM, my former supervisor told me the other day that I would really like you because you were quite the ‘rebel-rouser.’

    Apparently, you made some waves during your time.

    I like it.


  11. Avatar



  12. Avatar

    Fed. Investigator,
    Your former supervisor was being kind—“Rebel Rouser” sounds nicer than “Rabble Rouser.” Actually after I became an ASAC with DIS, had my spine surgically removed and the obligatory lobotomy, I was quite the company man—loyal and supportive of the organization, but I never became a “careerist.” Fortunately during the last 7 years at DSS and OPM, I was back on the street and my body regrew the missing parts. Convey my regards to your former supervisor.

  13. Avatar

    Will do, William, for sure.

  14. Avatar

    That is correct Blues. Pretty significant too. There was a small catch but I don’t plan on jumping ship so I had no problems with the catch.

  15. Avatar

    Any incentive for contractors to return? I’m all about working for the highest bidder…

  16. Avatar


    I bet the catch was signing a contract…how many years?

  17. Avatar


    I love an honest person 🙂 Also, I’m with ya.

  18. Avatar


    It’s time these folks compensate the good ones–congrats my friend.

  19. Avatar

    Not a contract. More of a non compete and non solicit agreement.

  20. Avatar

    Are they offering Escalades as work vehicles yet?

  21. Avatar


    What do you mean you can no longer solicit?????? 🙂

  22. Avatar


    Were investigators given the option to sign the non-compete? What are the terms? I had heard this was coming down the pipe at USIS.

    I don’t see how it’s enforceable. A “non-compete” when there are only 2 competitors and one customer essentially means you can’t go anywhere else in the market. It’s like a cashier at a grocery story signing an agreement to not go be a cashier at any other grocery stores. It’s not like you can take the customer with you.

  23. Avatar

    Regarding the non-compete issue, at least here in VA the “right to work” law would probably render such an agreement void.

  24. Avatar

    The non-compete clause would be void here in California as well.

  25. Avatar

    I was told not all Inv were given raises. It depended on performance as well ones overall attitude in general. If you did not sign the agreement no raise. But like I said earlier I have no complaints with my company right now and KGS and CACI have no solid work in my area. Win win for me personally.

  26. Avatar

    Word. Gotta look after Number 1. Glad things are going well.

  27. Avatar

    Fed –

    What a dumb guy…dumb as dirt.

  28. Avatar

    Asshole was the first adjective that came to mind.

  29. Avatar


  30. Avatar

    Since we’re sharing links, this ought to be a hell of an ESI.

  31. Avatar

    Oh my.

  32. Avatar

    I have a question. I am a college student (junior) and I want to apply for a job that requires a security clearance. However my advisor told me I will have trouble because of foreign travel. I am an American citizen, born here, same with my father. My mother was born in Canada but moved here at the age of six and is naturalized. I have distant relatives in France and Israel and Hungary. I have traveled to France with my family and on an educational program. I have traveled to several Caribbean/South American countries for vacations (about a week each). I have also traveled to Egypt on a language study program, and I will be studying there again in the summer. The job I want to apply for says foreign travel or study is highly desired. I’m confused that the job description says foreign travel is good, but that it’s also bad for getting a security clearance, which is required for the job. I do not have any close foreign friends or relatives, or any foreign business interests, and I certainly don’t have any conflict of interest. Do I have a chance of getting a security clearance, or should I just give up and look for a job in the private sector?

  33. Avatar

    There is always a chance.

    There is also a chance there is more to your story.

  34. Avatar

    NDS –

    Don’t believe everything you hear..I highly doubt that your advisor is also a personnel security professional on the side. Do not, I repeat – do not – let your foreign ties and travel prevent you from applying for a job that requires a clearance!

    You will be required to disclose all of that information on your SF-86, an investigator will be assigned to interview you – yes, rehash all of that information – and then an adjudicator will make a final determination. There are plenty of other people in that boat with you who hold clearances today.

    Do not let urban legends/myths hold you back! Good luck!

  35. Avatar

    Hey gang,

    I have left the cushy govt job and decided to just become a sub. The regimen of an office is not as great as I thought it would be. Life is not always greener on the other side.

  36. Avatar

    Good luck, BW!!

  37. Avatar

    I wish you the best BW.

  38. Avatar


  39. Avatar

    Our monthly statistics just came out and I saw something interesting. We are ranked all the way up to the national level and if I am reading the numbers right there are about 140 less investigators with our company in March than in February.

  40. Avatar

    Investigator- I bet I can guess where you work 😉

    BW- welcome back. Life as a sub is sweet, as far as I’m concerned…

    On a side note, I’m hearing all sort of stuff about the non-compete agreement of a certain company that shall remain nameless. Not a lawyer but pretty sure there’s no way in a million years they’d stand up in court. Can’t work for any competitor, including OPM, can’t work for yourself- even if fired by the company in question. Wow…

  41. Avatar


    The company that shall remain nameless continues to do some pretty stupid things…the so-called non-compete agreement is just one more in a long line. It is a scare tactic – nothing more. This has bloomed from their skyrocketing attrition rate. They’ve pushed their full time FIs to the point of burnout – and beyond. Great example of reactive vs. proactive management.

  42. Avatar

    I am lucky enough right now to not be part of the burnt out investigators. My work load is manageable but I know of many others who are overwhelmed.
    It is funny that about 3 weeks ago there was a posting on our internal FB/Twitter page from VP saying at least one investigator who left to go to another company was asking to come back. The post kind of bashed the other company a little. Yet since then no mention of anyone else wanting to come back and no bashing of the other company. 140 people in one month is a very big decline.

  43. Avatar

    This is off-topic, but I appreciate if any one out there has an insight. My BI for TS was closed in February of 2011. I was granted a final eligibility on TS in December of 2011, but JPAS shows an interim TS the very next day after the final TS. I had a follow-up clarification interview with an OPM investigator earlier this month. Based on the interview, I have no reason to assume my eligibility for TS will be revoked. My question is how long does it take for the information from the follow-up interview to be adjudicated.

  44. Avatar


    I’d say it would be between 8-12 weeks from the time you had the follow-up interview until final adjudication is rendered. That’s my best guess – assuming that DoD is the adjudicating agency.

  45. Avatar

    Blue’s Clues,

    Thanks, yes it is for DoD. I forgot to mention that I was put in for SCI with the Army right after the final TS was posted on JPAS. It was confusing to my Security Officer why they would put an interim TS afterwards. JPAS now shows both the final and the interim. Any thoughts on this?

  46. Avatar


    I don’t know why JPAS would show both at once…I know just enough about JPAS to be dangerous. Be assured that since your follow-up clarification interview has already been completed you are in the final stretch…won’t be long now.

  47. Avatar

    Got final on TS yesterday. The wait for SCI continues.

  48. Avatar


    Congrats. I have no idea how long the SCI bit is going to take, but at least you aren’t dealing with the interim TS any longer. As far as I know, the SCI bit can be separately adjudicated from the final TS materials…there shouldn’t be any further investigative work at this point.