OPM has a Fire and Forget Mentality
As an add-on to the article “DSS Looks to push through the Security Clearance Investigations Backlog” posted by Lindy Kyzer on our main site, here are a few other reasons why some background investigations are moving at slower than a snail’s pace. Back in December of last year I posted an article about FBI name checks and how they were impacting case closings. Just this week that was reaffirmed by a source at OPM who said the FBI was still working off a significant backlog on the requests that get a hit and have to be checked manually, which is taking an average of 8-11 months to complete. Also noted were specific FBI field office locations that were impacted more than others such as Washington, DC, Palo Alto, Chicago, Houston, and some Florida offices.
From my own perspective, it is frustrating that OPM/NBIB has not implemented a straggler control process to track, identify, and prioritize the cases that have been open for an inordinate amount of time past their due date. For example, I have Tier 1 through Tier 5 level investigations submitted from as far back as February of last year that only have one or two items pending in order to close or they haven’t had the ESI scheduled yet. As a result, I have seen investigations on applicants submitted in January that closed in April, while these others whose investigations were submitted in the summer of last year are still waiting. This fire and forget mentality by OPM affects applicants, security personnel, agencies and companies who can’t complete work or contract requirements because they are waiting on the clearance investigation process.
On those rare occasions when I was able to get a status update during one of my many investigations over the years, sometimes they would say, “we’re waiting on a response from another agency.” And I just cringed because I knew that not only was such a request not very high on the list of actions at that other agency, but also I knew that nothing would stimulate a response on the OPM side until something came back. Sort of a variant on “no news is good news.”
Are you an adjudicator? What is your position in regards to National Security Background Investigations?
I was an adjudicator in a CAF previously and now am a “Jack of All” in managing and providing oversight for personnel, industrial, and information security.
All sadly (so very sadly) true. Moving the DSS/PSMO-I backlog to OPM will not solve the backlog. It just centralizes it in one location. It will not result in the investigations getting completed faster. However, not to defend OPM, but their response of “waiting a response from another agency” is true and valid. In many cases, OPM sends queries to other government agencies for information, such as ICE/INS for naturalization verification; State Dept for born abroad of US parent info; many agencies for prior background investigations, etc. In such cases, OPM is at the mercy of the other agency and has no hammer to force the answer. Some of these circumstances can be solved by other processes. Citizenship info/documentation can be obtained by OPM via personal interview or provided directly to the CAF through the subject’s security manager/FSO. I think that the Federal personnel security players should get together and set some guidelines for OPM to close cases where the missing info could be obtained from an alternate source so OPM could close the case and get it to the CAF for review. That might alleviate some of the backlog and maybe get the “chiefs” involved in problem solving instead of leaving us “Indians” to fret over people being paid with no job to do/MOS not qualified, trainee/security holdovers or people getting fired/terminated because the government customer cannot wait for the employee to get cleared.
Marko is right on the point. But the problems are so much deeper and systemic. As a former contract investigator of 15 years, I saw procedural problems from inside out. At the core are inconsistencies and multiple interpretations of case coverage requirements. OPM plays coy that the Investigator’s Handbook is purposely vague in order to justify penalizing contractors for deficient cases. As a consequence, Investigators stumble over quarters to pick up pennies when cases are kicked back for further resolution of so called issues that have no real bearing on adjudicative concerns or national security. We have truly lost our way with this ridiculous backlog. Once the inscrutable coverage criteria for the new tier system rolled out, I knew this would only make things worse. And it has.
Do you think anyone at OPM (or NBIB or OPM NBIB or whatever new name they’re using for their PR overhaul) suggested a focus group of field investigators to give input on making investigations efficient and effective? Rhetorical question. I’m sure the 20-something consultants from Booz Allen who OPM hired to look at the problem didn’t need the input from the investigator worker drones.
What a novel idea. Actually asking for input from the field workers who actually produce the reports of investigation. Never heard an iota from anyone that this was ever done. And it should have been, from day one. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.
How long does it take for an investigation to be adjudicated?
There is no one set answer. Depends on the level of investigation, agency, workload (backlog), issues present in the case, follow-ups for information needed…
In a perfect world a clearance investigation should be adjudicated within 21 days of the investigation closed date. The caveat to that are IC agencies who conduct their own and have specific criteria to review and close the loop on.