Security Clearance Process

New OPM Director Puts the Focus Back on Timeliness

The real security clearance issue isn’t the backlog (which is upwards of 500,000 pending cases) – it’s the timeliness.

That’s what the new director of the National Background Investigation Bureau argued during a talk at the recent Professional Service Council’s Vision Project.

“The real relevant number is 40 or 80. That’s the number of days we are supposed to deliver either a secret or top secret clearance to somebody we adjudicate,” said Charlie Phalen, director of the NBIB. As of August initial Secret clearances took 116 days, Top Secret clearances took 203 days, and Periodic Reinvestigations took 227 days to complete

“I would argue that my backlog could be 5 million cases and nobody would care as long as I was still delivering that product in 40 or 80 days,” said Phalen. “So we are truly focused on what is the timeliness and how can we get back to our standard for getting these background investigations adjudicated. We are absolutely focused on that.”

Trust in Me

The other key effort Phalen seems to be focused on? Re-establishing public trust for the organization that lost the personal records of more than 20 million individuals. Phalen is looking to several business processes to improve the way NBIB does business. Initiatives include improving the technology used to conduct background investigations, as well as more consistent data collection.


  1. I think the point the new director of NBIB was trying to make was that IF they could stick to the 40-80 day timeline, the backlog wouldnt matter. Of course if they could get them done that quickly there would be no such backlog.

    Funny thing is, my periodic reinvestigation went pretty quickly (about three months as I recall). Its the ADJUDICATION that’s been dragging on forever. And I’m sure the factors that @datesnotrecalled mentioned (turnover, inefficient IT, training time) also apply to the adjudicative staff as well.

  2. Mr. Phalen is right, if you have 50,000 background investigators, a pending caseload 500,000 cases doesn’t matter. But they have less than 8,000 investigators. Timeliness (case turnaround time) is directly related to capacity and caseload.

  3. So I guess the report I read about them hiring 200 more investigators in 2017 (presumably above attrition) is not big news? I think that was for direct-hire federal investigators. Maybe they can add more contractors as well, but who knows how long it takes either type (direct-hire fed or contractor) to come up to speed so they can work their own cases independently?

  4. The number 8,000 is the total (contractor and feds) that NBIB projects for sometime next year, presumably when the two new contractors get up to speed. I’m not sure if that number includes investigative support personnel. The contractors can hire as many investigators as they like, but there’s a limited pool of qualified personnel. When NBIB hires, they’ll probably steal trained investigators from the contractors.

  5. Good point! And we all know how long it takes for the feds to hire people… not to mention people who need a clearance.