Background Investigations

GAO Testimony on Personnel Security Clearances

On December 1, 2010 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) presented testimony before a House subcommittee. The testimony was presented in the form of a report (GAO-11-232T) entitled: “Personnel Security Clearances: Overall Progress Has Been Made to Reform the Governmentwide Security Clearance Process.” The testimony covered 3 major long standing issues: a single federal database for clearance information, reciprocity, and timeliness.

The “Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004” (IRTPA) “required that no later than 12 months after the date of its enactment, the Director of OPM and the Director of OMB establish and commence operating and maintaining a single, integrated database of security clearance information.” No single integrated database exists or is planned. Instead, OPM’s Central Verification System (CVS) provides a “single search” capability for about 90% of all investigations and clearances. Integrating the remaining 10% of Intelligence Community (IC) clearances remains problematic.

Government agencies reported requiring additional investigation and/or adjudication on some currently cleared individuals for reasons that are not permitted by existing reciprocity rules. Due to the absence of government-wide metrics for reciprocity, GAO was unable to measure the degree of non-compliance with clearance reciprocity requirements.

GAO acknowledged that significant improvements in timeliness of clearances had been made and that overall timeliness requirements of the IRTPA had been met. GAO noted that of the agencies they reviewed DOD, DOE, and NGA had consistently met the 60-day IRPTA requirement during the first three quarters of FY2010 (October 2009 to June 2010), and 11 other agencies had not. A chart on page 7 of GAO-11-232T reported timeliness for seven IC agencies and seven non-IC agencies.

Comment Archive

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    My favorite part of the report, once again, it’s the Investigator’s fault.

    “Most agency officials stated that the lack of governmentwide standardized training and certification for investigators and adjudicators is a challenge to immediately reciprocating a security clearance. Without governmentwide standardized training and certification, agencies cannot be certain that a subject’s prior clearance investigation and adjudication meet the quality expectations of the inquiring agency. Consequently, as we have previously reported, agencies are reluctant to be accountable for investigations and/or adjudications conducted by other agencies or organizations. Although OPM has developed some training, security clearance investigators and adjudicators are not required to complete a certain type or number of classes.”

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    Reciprocity is a joke. The big problem is, some of the agencies don’t trust each other and, there are some that want it their way when it comes to case type. I think we should eliminate all SSBI PR’s and barring any issues all 5 year updates should be Phase PR’s. Alot of time is wasted on non-sense like talking to neighbors and references, who are friends of the subject anyhow and give a “Shiny” rendition of their friends. This job is not rocket science, so redundant training is definitely not the answer in my opinion. Fed, as you know we always get these knee-jerk reactions after info is compromised. The loss of info has nothing to do with investigators and everything to do with the agencies who lose the info, which includes the DoD. A little more security and a little less whining! To be blunt, I’m surprised on how much we get done being at the mercy of everyone else.

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    BW, couldn’t agree more. I don’t know what the training is like on the contract side but I’ve never had so much traning in a job before. Maybe if they would quit changing the rules, regs, handbook, product, memos, addendums, et. all, every other week, we could all finally ‘standardize’ our investigations.

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    Fed.- on that note, when is the new SF-86 rolling out?

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    My guess is about two weeks after the new new SF 86 is done 🙂

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    Not sure when it’s rolling out, I remember someone talking about it at some point but that’s all I got. I do agree with BW though, it won’t matter, I’m sure there’s another one right around the corner.

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    The one they are about to roll out scares me. I think subject interviews are going to become a day-long event…

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    You very well may be correct. It will take hours for us to correct them when it’s time to type.

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    I just had a Phased that took hours, a f-ing Phased, something was wrong in almost every section on the SF-86. AGHHHHHHHHH

    I can’t wait for the new form. Ugh.

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    And when I say I can’t wait for the new form, I’m kidding, I know it’s just going to be more of a mess.

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    I love being in the slowest 10%. I wanna see the table for those…

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    I think I may start a side business that teaches people how to properly fill out the SF 86.

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    Feel your pain–had a simple SPIN, which turned into a 2 hr–fix my SF 86 for me please because I’m too lazy to do it right. The ESI is killing me slowly!!!!!!

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    Good idea! OH Wait–the job does actually already exist; it’s called FSO or Security Manager. Good things FSO make about 80+ G’s to allow folks to continue turning in shoddy paperwork.

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    My hands down favorite part of the job is when some big shot Colonel or Vice President gets all indignant and asks why we have to go over the SF-86 again. “I filled it our all right and nothing has changed, can’t we just move on?”

    Then surprise, surprise, the sh*t is all f*cked up and then I can get a big smile on my face and say, “This is why we have to go over it again.”

    Best self-righteous feeling ever.

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    BW & Investigator:
    Don’t complain too much about FSOs. The ones at large contractor facilities do fairly a good job compared to the military. The worst SF86s I ever saw were from the Air Force at Lackland. I think they used E-1s and E-2s on “casual” status to instruct the other IETs on what to put in their SF86s. The most common things I heard were:

    1. “You don’t need to list travel to Mexico or Canada.”
    2. “List a parent as the verifier for all your residences.”
    3. “If you didn’t work there for at least 6 months don’t list it.”
    4. “Don’t list your dorm address, because it was temporary. List your parents’ address instead.”
    5. “Don’t list a school unless you receive a degree or diploma.”
    6. “List the school registrar (or principal) as an educational reference.”

    BTW, the primary reason I wrote “Security Clearance Manual” was to help FSOs at small contractor facilities and military recruiters. Of course very, very few FSOs and military recruiters have bought the book. Most of the feedback I get is from individual applicants who received little help, no help, or incorrect help from those who should know a little about the SF86. . . and it’s going to get worse with the new version.

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    William Henderson

    I cannot agree more than what you are saying here. I totally relate to your report, especially when it comwes to SFO’s.
    In the past few months I have talked to at least three FSO’s of three different contractors. Including the last one where I submitted an e-Qip. I was stunned by the level of incompetency and lack of knowledge when they have to be experts. I, just by my own research and (buying and reading the manual)possess way more information about the process then these guys just doing secarterial work. Had I found and worked with a competent FSO, my
    adjudication was already completed and had my clearance in hand by now. From my own case, I can tell FSO’s are one main reason for the delays in the process because they never provide an expert level input in the filling of the application, when and how to medigate and etc. He told me he reviewed my e-qip and it seems all correct and I need to hit the submitt button. A few days later, I noticed I had missed up my graduation date and the start of my first job leaving a 5 months gap w/o explaination. Thanks God there was an investigator there to correct it for me. This is one example in my story. I think these people should be audited by some standards by the government

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    I swear that, when I first started doing this type of work, OPM would reject incomplete forms. Maybe my memory is not correct but I feel like there were a lot less problems years ago (also could do with the change in the form). I have stopped accepting ESI-2 cases because the compensation for us contractors has not increased but, as we know, the work on those cases increased significantly. Frankly, I find myself doing less and less OPM work and focusing more on my other contract. The profit margins just keep getting smaller. I don’t know why the OPM contracting companies did not increase their billing with the additional work that is needed on these new cases.

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    I hear ya. I’m fairly lucky here as most of the FSO’s are friends of mine and they do a good job. I agree the military is far and away the worst–Security Managers are usually an extra-duty for the troops.

    But, for the life of me, I cannot understand why the military and SF 86 instructions tell the kids not to list initial training bases due to the short duration, yet when we meet, we have the ESI guidelines and have to fix it every time. They need a focus group of the experts to address these somewhat minor hiccups, but time consuming ones. When I say experts, I mean INVESTIGATORS–not people in administrative postions and SES’s who have never performed this work.

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    I think educating the security managers and FSOs should be done through liaison at the Field Office and regional office level. Unfortunately “liasion” visits or even “courtesy calls” rarely occur anymore. My perception is that supervisors rarely go out with their field investigators to meet CEOs, FSOs, military commanders, security managers, police chiefs, etc. And field investigators are penalized (due to productivity measurements) if they spend work time on liaison activities. This is obviously one of my pet peeves.

    Another pet peeve is the demise of “Information Summary Reports–ISR). DIS/DSS used to produce hundreds of ISRs of CI and security interest each year and pass them to the appropriate CI/security agency (FBI, OSI, MI, NCIS, Customs, etc.). Thousands of background investigators on the street making contact with tens of thousands of people everyday provided a perfect channel for citizens to report information without to decide whether it was significant or not and without having to make a special trip or telephone call. And of course, now that there are so few field offices, would be “walk in” informants have no where to go.

    IMHO OPM and the contract companies are only in the background investigation business; they have no larger sense of responsibility for national security.

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    Agree fully. For the contractors, seems as if all is profit driven. As for OPM FISD, all I see is power struggles and power grabbing as is typical with any govt agency.