Background Investigations

Length of OPM Investigations

In her 17 September 2008 written remarks to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Intelligence Community Management, Kathy Dillaman, Associate Director Federal Investigative Services Division (FISD), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), provided the following data on investigative elapse times:

Closed during:

All Initial Clearances

Top Secret Initial



80% Avg


80% Avg


80% Avg

FY 2007


56 days


83 days


52 days

FY 08 1st Qtr


60 days


83 days


56 days

FY 08 2nd Qtr


63 days


88 days


59 days

FY 08 3rd Qtr


54 days


74 days


51 days

After apparently making improvements in investigative turnaround time during FY06 and FY07, OPM’s progress toward the IRTPA December 2009 requirements (90% in 40 days) seems to have stalled.

The numbers don’t paint a true picture of the processing time involve.  For example, the average for 100% of Top Secret initial investigations completed in FY07 was 222 days, and the end-to-end processing time (which includes adjudication) for 80% of all initial investigations completed in FY07 was 106 days.  It’s often difficult to compare OPM’s data from one report to another, because OPM rarely presents their data same way.  For example in May 2008 OPM made a presentation at an ITAA meeting.  In this presentation it was stated that “In Fiscal Year 2007, OPM received 586,569 initial security clearance investigations.  Of these, 80% of the initial security clearance investigations were completed in an average of 67 days (92 days for Top Secret and 63 days for Secret/Confidential).”  So, it’s usually only possible to compare relative changes based on the data within a single report.

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    The company I work for has already started working OPM cases on a 30 day cycle. From the date the case is assigned to the PRSI investigator all of the field work for the case needs to be done in 25 days. That gives our review staff 5 days to review the case to make sure it meets OPM requirments before we send the case to either OPM or the final agency for their review.

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    Seems to be working OK so far. As always, we will run into the same snags as before with heavy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe we need investigators there as well.

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    Heard there has been some lay-offs. What gives if you can say.

  4. Avatar

    Guys just a question out of curiosity, how come, for example Fiscal Year ’07, it takes 52 days for a Secret and only 83 days for a Top Secret. I was looking at the investigative process and it seems to me that an NACLC would take a LOT less time than an SSBI.

  5. Avatar

    No layoffs in my area. I asked if we should be concerned with any and was told OPM is happy with us here in Central VA. We have work coming in daily from OPM. No backlog which is good. With BRAC one of our military bases in the area is going to grow by about 85%. Always will be work there.

  6. Avatar

    We’ve had a pretty significant slow down (Northern VA)with lots of speculation and rumors floating around. No layoffs yet. No idea what’s going on but we may see a balance and workload shift around the OPM contractors within the next few months.

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    A slow down in NVA I would never think that could happen.

  8. Avatar

    Under ideal circumstances it takes less than 32 manhours to do the field portion of an SSBI. Queuing time (and to a much lesser extent file transfer time and administrative time) accounts for the remainng 80 to 82 days. The same applies to an NACLC. For the most part, queuing time is a function of pending caseload. So, the smaller the pending caseload, the less queuing time.

  9. Avatar

    Contract Inv and Inv

    Not a good sign. If NoVA, where I believe is the busiest part of the country, is slowing down that is not good, although I heard with the backlog caught-up things are keeping good pace in most areas. I guess no reason to worry, afterall this is the contract world and we know how stable that is 🙂

  10. Avatar

    At first glance the numbers put out by OPM looked funny. Opening 586,569 initial clearance investigations in FY07 and closing 425,268 investigations for initial clearances in FY07 means the number of pending initial clearance investigations increased by 161,301. However, I calculated that they also opened about 135,000 investigations in FY07 for TS-PRs and S-PRs. At the beginning of FY07 OPM said they had a total pending caseload of 385,695 security clearance investigations (initials and PRs).

    To achieve an average turnaround time 120 days (for all cases, not just the top 80%) you can’t have a pending caseload of more than 4 month’s worth of case openings or roughly 240,000 cases and on average you must close as many cases as you open each month. That means that OPM had to close a total of about 706,000 security clearance investigations in FY07, which is well within their ability. They closed 10% more than that in FY06.

    Which also suggests that they received less cases overall in FY07 than they did in FY06. It will be interesting to see what their total case closings are for FY08. As unemployment increases there is usually less job hopping and this could negatively affect new clearance requests.

  11. Avatar

    I have heard nothing about any work slow down in NVA for my company. In fact they are deatiling investigators from the Norfolk, VA area to NVA to work cases since there is no longer a backlog in Norfolk. My company won a contract with the FBI and many investigators left the NVA area to go work on that contract so we were hiring up in NVA to fill the vacancies. Since many cases overlap from NVA to Central VA I am dealing with newbies who are still learning the job which makes work on my end challenging at times.

  12. Avatar

    I think the slowdown may be related to how my company is handling their contractors. We used to have unlimited work, enough to keep us busy for as much as we were willing to work. As of about 2 weeks ago, we have been told that we will be utilized more on an “as needed” basis and we are not really being assigned much, if any, work. There are rumors flying everywhere about the state of the OPM contract with my company and speculation that my company may have either lost or significantly diminished their portion of it. I have no idea if that’s true I just know that my fellow contract investigators are all desperately seeking other means of income.

  13. Avatar

    Coming from my pov, we had a pretty good OPM contract at my old company. In early 2007, they went through 3 rounds of layoffs in the OPM part of the company without touching the other contracts (CBP, the Agency, etc). We were overworked as it was, and they cut jobs? By the hundreds? A former coworker of mine is still there and she barely has any work as an investigator, getting by on about 20 hours per week. That being said, she is lazy (self-described) and doesn’t mind, but I know I couldn’t live with that paycheck. I know that investigators turn in reports and by the time any reviewers get to them, half of the investigators are either gone from the company or their TDY to a strange area had ended a long time ago. Plus, notes are already sent back to the company, they have no idea what case it was they were working when they’re asked about it, and then the process starts over again. It’s no wonder it’s taking that long, and frankly, I can’t imagine it’s even taking this short amount of time to do it.

    FYI, I had a case on my desk that just could NOT be completed (due to investigators not being in needed areas) for such a long time that it had a close date of February 2005 and it was still on my desk in January 2007. For what it’s worth.

  14. Avatar

    Wish there was more work in CT. Very slow.

  15. Avatar

    I am in search of a simple answer to a complex question that continues to be the bane of my existence, because I have a very low patience’s threshold, and was hoping someone could help me? My clearance has vanished in the hole of Adjudication for about 2 months now and I’m worried it may never return. This is also very odd, because everything else went very fast up to this point.
    My question is, what exactly happens during Adjudication? And if you could explain it like you are talking to someone raised outside certain “acronym” circles, please? Also, how long does this process usually take and is there a number I can call or an email address I can write to in order to check on my packet?

    Thanks for the help

  16. Avatar

    Opps, I beleve I asked this in the wrong place. Sorry

  17. Avatar

    Just a word to those who’s 5-year update is overdue and you are in fear of being laid-off.

    I was submitted for my 5-yr update when it was overdue for one (i.e more than 5 years had passed since the previous update). I’d held a TS/SSBI for over 20 years. The process had been rolling along for a few months and the field portion of the investigation had been completed. It was late February of this year I received a 2 month notice that I would be laid-off with 800 other engineers. During that time I interviewed with other defense contractors. Because I was working a DoD project that didn’t require an SSBI, the DoD was in charge of my update. However, the “customers” I interviewed with wanted an active SSBI clearance. Because the DoD was performing the investigation, these other “customers” would not interfere until the update was either completed or closed for some reason (like I was laid-off!). So, I was turned down for many positions for clearance reasons and ultimately left the defense world. Now I work for a large civilian world company. I would have told the DoD to stop processing my clearance so a different customer could pick up the update process. But, because my clearance was already beyond the 5-year window, it would not have mattered. The security reps at companies I interviewed with said it would take a long amount of time to get it processed and they couldn’t wait. If my clearance had not been overdue for its update, it could have been reinstated within a couple weeks at most and the update could have then taken place on time.


  18. Avatar

    Contract Investigator,
    I am sorry to hear that. Never want to hear that people are out of work. Do you mind providing the first letter of your company? If you don’t want to I understand. Mine is U and I am sure you can figure out the name from that first letter.

  19. Avatar

    Here in Dallas, I’ve not experienced a dramatic reduction in work, although there have been times that OPM will withhold work temporarily until cases are completed for a specific area. I do however, remain concerned that new cases will not be generated at the previous rate, due to job reductions…

  20. Avatar

    What qualifications are need to be an OPM Investigator in California?
    I have an active Secret Clearance.

  21. Avatar


    I was a SPIN contract with your company for a few years. I figured out about 18 mos ago, there would not be alot of room for subs, so I moved along.

  22. Avatar

    I have an Active Final TS(SSBI) (DoD) and was placed on a DHS/TSA contract about 3 months ago. I have not yet been granted “TSA Sutibality” to work on the contract, although the work is only to Public Trust. I am confused on why somebody with a DoD clearance much higher than the required clearance from DHS/TSA is taking long to get sutability. Isn’t there some kind of mandated trust between the organizations?

  23. Avatar

    Yes the sub contractors for my company get the short end of the stick. Any time there is a slow down in work they are the first ones to feel it. I had thought about going sub contract but this was before the economy started going down the drain.

  24. Avatar

    Investigator, I think we have something in common. I have been very, very well treated by this company. I just think that there are a lot of changes in the way we are utilized. I have enjoyed the flexibility and compensation that the work affords me. That is why, even with the current situation, I would still rather be a contractor as opposed to being a f/t worker. There are other companies that appear to have more work and I’ll probably continue to do the as needed work for our company, too.

  25. Avatar


    Don’t get me wrong, when the SPINS were the big thing it was very good for me. I saw the new direction and that is why I left–not any other reason. I think we may be heading for some rough roads ahead so I to decided to remain full time. As recently as a month ago, I was discussing Sub with the FM. I’m gonna at least try to hang on for a while. Lot of rumors out there about your team–been hearing about 10% are being laid-off. As I said this is only rumor–what say you?

  26. Avatar

    Mike R

    Welcome to DHS!!!!!

  27. Avatar

    No layoffs in my area or down in the Tidewater area. The Tidewater area did not fill any positions that were vacated by investigators resigning, be fired for production purposes and unfortunately one being fired for for falsification on a case. There are less investigators working that area but no layoffs. The Tidewater area next to the DC/NVA area was one of the highest backlog areas we had but over time those backlogs were worked down. We have a town hall meeting at the end of this month and I am sure layoffs and work slow downs will be discussed. We will see what happens.

  28. Avatar


    Good luck–hope everyone stays gainfully employed. If you hear any significant info let me know in the Investigators thread and I’ll do the same.

  29. Avatar


    First, you have to demonstrate surfing ability 🙂 Kidding. A background in some form of investigations is usually required for a subcontractor. If you get a full-time position, normally a degree is a good start and you will be trained. Having an active secret doesn’t hurt either. Class is about 2-3 weeks and then field training with an established investigator. Ability to write and ability to get along with everyone is a must. An impartial and non-judging attitude is a must have. Alot of patience!!!! and ability to work odd hours by yourself are routine.

  30. Avatar

    Icould not have described the job better myself. I think the big part of the job is working alone.

  31. Avatar

    2-3 weeks training!! what a joke investigators are. I guess that is why it took 2.5 years to get a public trust completed for me. in the end the investigators, with their 2-3 weeks of “training” screwed up the report and made 17 mistakes in a 2 page report!! what a joke. in the end everything they got wrong was clarified and good thing I was not held accountable for their terrible interview and borderline lies and personal judgements. After I requested an administrative hearing to clarify the stupidity of the 3 week trained ‘investigators” (LOL)…..everything was in my favor, a 12 year USMC decorated veteran. ……until I was denied the POT as a safe decision tot error on the side of caution….just in case!! OPm the investigators the whole process is a waste of time and effort that keeps good people of work!!!

  32. Avatar

    former USMC

    OPM does a poor job of putting investigations together and does not complete all leads. They often miss alot of information and they will close the investigation because they want to keep their timeframe looking good. When the investigation goes to adjudication, many of the cases must be reopened for various missing information. They really need to get their act together because there are individuals like you are getting ‘screwed’ out of jobs.

  33. Avatar

    Sorry you feel that way former USMC. Everyone makes mistakes. I am sure in your 12 year career with the USMC you made mistakes. If the investigator lied and put in his/her personal judgements in the report then they are a bad egg. What personal judgements and lies did the investigator list in their report about you? I have never written a 17 page report for a public trust clearance even with many issues.
    Also in addition to the 3 weeks of classroom training then there is anywhere from another 4 to 6 weeks of on the job training and sometimes longer. For the first year to 18 months after their field training a new investigator’s field reports are reviewed in detail to make sure they are writing and reporting correctly. This job is not a job that can be learned solely in the classroom. It is a hands on learning experience that takes some people a bit longer to catch on too than others.
    The process is important but if you don’t think it is then what do you suggest is a better way to screen out individuals who want to commit treason, terrorism or other acts of violence against the USA.

  34. Avatar

    Also former USMC, the investigators role is a only a portion of the entire investigation. Then there is the reviewer who makes sure the investigator obtained all the info need for the report. Then it goes to an adjudicator who reviews the information obtained during the investigation so an decision can be made. It is not like an investigator interviews you and your co-workers, friends and neighbors and then makes the decision if you should obtain your position or not on their own. I can guarantee that your case was not on the investigators workload for 2.5 years. It was at most on their workload for two months. Also before we caught up with all of the cases I was working on cases that were anywhere from 6 months to a year old so you must factor in that as well.
    Please do not bash the process until you know about the whole process and as I asked in my previous post please if you have a better way of doing it feel free to suggest it.

  35. Avatar


    The adjudication system is inconsistent and the decision to whether or not to grant a clearance or a position of trust will rely on the individual that adjudicates the investigation. Not all adjudicators think alike. Each evaluates the way they were taught. The investigation probably sat in the CAF for quite sometime since all CAFs are severely backloged. In the CAF that I worked at the trustworthy cases sat for months because they were not as important as security clearance investigations.

  36. Avatar

    Former USMC

    Are you trying to make a point? If so what is it? All I read is insults!!!!! There are good and bad folks in every job. I am a 20 year veteran of the military and I have learned that humility and respect will get more than lashing-out.

  37. Avatar

    I doubt he will respond to either of our posts.

  38. Avatar


    Good–I’m sure it would be an uneducated response either way.

  39. Avatar

    A friend,
    What part of the country are you in that many cases in adjudication get re-opened more work due to missing information? I have done this job for almost 7 years in DC and in VA and have never had a case of mine come back to me from adjudication because of lack of information. I have had reviewers re-open cases of mine due to lack of information but never from an adjudicator. I think there is a good system for checking cases to make sure all of the information is there before it goes to an adjudicator or security officer. OPM is not perfect but they do a pretty good job. There may be a few rare instances in which cases get through but with me making sure I got all the information for a case, then the reviewers with my company revieiwing the case to make sure all the info was obtained and then OPM reviewers reviewing the case again to make sure all the info is there all before it gets in the hands of an adjudicator or security officer is a pretty good system.
    I would love to hear some more details as to exactly what happened to former USMC’s case. I can’t see an investigator making up lies and putting in his/her own judgements for his case and the case still getting through all of the checks out there.

  40. Avatar


    Good points. I have literally worked on about 2,000+ cases or so and have never had that happen. Now, I hear there are times where there is follow-up within an org or unit for any additional info deemed necessary. Now, we in this business know–there is no way we can interject opinion without being called to task. As far as lying goes–that is possible, but is usually found out in the end. Over your years I am sure you have seen alot of folks get dismissed quickly for lying. This is why it seems everyone I have interviewed gets a follow-up call to make sure I am doing my job and I know it’s the same for you. On top of this, OPM also sends out questionnaires on investigators. Awful lot of layers to try and game the system. Check the recent prosecution of an Investigator for False Reporting–got hammered.

  41. Avatar

    BW & Investigator:

    Actually early this month there were two publicized cases involving false reporting (ghostwriting) by background investigators.

    A Contractor Investigator, George Abraham, was convicted on six felony counts of false
    reporting. Sentencing is in Feb 09. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Abraham could face up to 33 months in prison.

    An OPM (FISD) investigator, George Dittman, pleaded guilty to felony false reporting. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced in Jan 09.

    During my time at DIS/DSS/OPM there were one or two cases a year involving ghostwriting. Ghostwriters were always fired. This is the first time I have heard of ghostwriters being prosecuted.

  42. Avatar

    I recall those cases. In fact there was an investigator in my district for my company who was caught falsifying reports of investigations this past summer. She was fired and she is going to be prosecuted as well. Yet all of her cases for I believe the last six months from the date she was caught are being re-worked due to the fact OPM wants to make sure she did not falsify any other reports of hers.
    I know falsification is out there unfortunately but with the many checks it is harder for investigators to do it even though they shouldn’t be in the first place.

  43. Avatar


    I to am surprised, but mainly on the contractor. Figured they would just be terminated and “Black-Listed.” The Fed person didn’t surprise me too much. Funny that with as many people falsify their forms while seeking clearance, there are not more prosecutions on them as well. Seems like a huge double standard.

  44. Avatar

    I would like to see at least a few applicants be prosecuted for falsification, but only in the most egregious cases. I don’t see different treatment for investigators versus applicants as a double standard. I see it as two different standards–one for people who are already in a position of special trust and responsibility and one for people who are not. However, I don’t believe that a lengthy prison sentence is appropriate for either of the two investigators. Loss of employment, the stigma of a court conviction, a fine large enough to pay for having their cases reinvestigated, and a couple of weeks in jail is probably punishment enough.

  45. Avatar

    I for one will counter USMC’s statements saying that the cases I’ve seen arrive for suitability determination have been fairly well comprehensive and satisfactory. Esspecially only clean cases. You can only read so much “Does not think the subject could be blackmailed” so many times.

    I applaud OPM for clearing the backlog. Investigations are rolling quickly. CAF’s are backed up and have cases coming out there windows, but it’s only the backlog going through its final stage. If the CAFs can partly match OPMs efforts we’ll be sailing smoothly.

    As far as thoroughness of investigation though, this isnt Soviet Russia where one accusation sends you to toil in the Gulags for 10 years. Investigators are trained to do their jobs and for the most part do them well.

    You make 12 years in the Marines sound like you’re entitled to something. All good spies had at least 12 years in, if not more, in service of the Government. There’s a reason they err on the side of caution, and a reason you’re still investigated. Maybe Robert Hansen or Aldrich Ames shouldnt have been investigated for espionage because of all those years of good service.

  46. Avatar

    Bravo Typical!!

  47. Avatar


    First, thank you for putting this site together. I am a new federal hire for DHS and my position requires a TS/SCI. I have a DOD TS/SCI that recently went dormant (granted 5/03), and figured that since DHS has reciprocity with DOD, DHS would simply accept my DOD and initiate a PR. Well, it has been roughly 4 months since they’ve received all of my paperwork and I still have not been granted the TS/SCI by DHS.

    -Do you have any data that provides the average number of days for the inter agency transfer of a clearance?

    -Also, do you know of any rules or procedures that would prevent my TS/SCI from being passed from DOD to DHS?

  48. Avatar

    I started the process of getting a clearance through a program from General Dynamics. I was not employed with them–it was just a program that they were sponsoring. I did all the preliminary work in 2006(online application, drug test, fingerprinting) and OPM started its investigation of me in the summer of 2007. I have not had any status on the process. How do I go about getting status? The people who I first was in contact with at General Dynamics are no longer there. I do not know anyone from General Dynamics. Can this process be used by another company to orginate the process for me again?

  49. Avatar

    The government doesn’t even have any data on reciprocal clearance transfers.

    If it has been more than 2 years since you occupied a position where you held a TS/SCI clearance, your clearance can not be transferred. If a polygraphy or a different type of polygraph exam is required, you clearance can not be transferred without the exam. If your TS/SCI was granted with an “exception” by DOD, DHS does not have to accept it.

  50. Avatar

    This all sounds very vague. Normally the government will not investigate or grant a clearance unless there is an employment relationship. You must either be an employee or have a written offer of employment that specifies you will be hired within 30 days of receiving a clearance. There may be situations where the government allows people to be cleared for a “program,” but if the program no longer exists, the clearance terminates. It is possible that you were granted a clearance just before the program ended and therefore never got to participate.

    You can either apply for a job that requires a clearance and your prospective employer will check the appropriate database (there are 3 major databases) to see what information exists on you, or you can submit a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act request to OPM and the government agency that should have granted the clearance. At this point the only value of an investigation that did not result in a clearance, is the ability to get an interim Top Secret clearance quickly. If a clearance was granted, it can be accepted by a federal agency for a period of 2 years from the date the investigation was completed.

  51. Avatar

    I’m one of those contractors who has been “furloughed” in northern VA by the “U” company. I too suspect that there are some issues with the OPM contract. Wonder if we will ever hear what the real issue is.

    I’m now considering other employment/contract options. I was “adjudicated to Top Secret” based on an OPM investigation. I never needed a clearance for the work I was doing so it was never granted. How close am I to getting a TS if another job requires it? What do I tell a potential employer?

  52. Avatar

    You can tell a potential employer that you held a critical-sensitive position based on a favorably adjudicated SSBI.

    I don’t think there are any contract issues with OPM. OPM (FISD) and its contractors were staffed to handle the current workload plus the backlog. The backlog has been eliminated, so it’s only natural to reduce staffing to a level to a level commensurate with the current workload.

  53. Avatar

    So you were not an employee of the company you were one of their contractors?

  54. Avatar

    William Henderson,
    Since the backlog has been eliminated in the area I work in what we call the “subcontractors” will be the first ones to stop getting work. The FTEs must be taken care of first before the “subcontractors” can get any work. It was my impression that the “subcontractors” knew this when they were hired but I could be wrong.

  55. Avatar

    In addition to what I said above, we recently had a district meeting and both or district manager and business unit director advised OPM was quite happy with the quaility of work our company was providing. We just needed to work on our timeliness. I do not think there is going to be any reduction in work, it is just like mentioned above the backlog is caught up for the most part. I am not working on any cases more than 2 months old which is a first since I started in 07/02.

  56. Avatar

    I’m a contractor, not an employee. Sorry for the delay in my response and thanks for the additional information.

  57. Avatar

    William, Thanks for the information provided in your post on December 4th. Follow-up question for the group- does the fact that I had a very recent TS/SCI investigation (granted by DOD on 5/2003) help speed up my current TS/SCI investigation by DHS?

  58. Avatar

    It’s hard to say. Investigations for some parts of DHS are done by OPM. Other parts of DHS contract directly with private investigations suppliers. OPM is currently doing a reasonably good job in turning around investigations quickly for both initial investigations and period reinvestigations. So, if your investigation is being done by OPM it probably won’t make much of a difference whether they wind up doing an SSBI or SSBI-PR. SSBIs involve more work than an SSBI-PR, but SSBIs have a higher priority.