Problems with Education Verifications Through the National Student Clearinghouse
All national security background investigations have required checks that must be completed in order for the investigation to meet federal investigative standards. One of the required checks is verifying claimed higher education transcripts and degrees. Prior to the existence of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) and its predecessor, the National Background Investigations Bureau, verification of college degrees was done by either sending an inquiry to the school itself or sending an investigator out to obtain the record. Schools were generally cooperative and most of the time didn’t even charge a transcript fee.
Fast forward to current processes and verifying a college degree is a much-changed landscape. In 2019 DCSA started relying on using the National Student Clearinghouse to verify educational credentials. So, what is it? Basically, it is designed to be a one-stop shop for students, collegiate institutions, employers, and government agencies to verify someone’s educational transcripts and diplomas. It also alleviates individual schools from having to process thousands of transcripts requests every year. The problem we run into for federal background investigations is this; not all colleges and universities have transferred historic data into this clearinghouse.
Think of agencies like Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, NASA, NOAA, and other scientific heavy agencies with employees who went to college many years ago before things went digital. Most likely their college records are not going to be in the clearinghouse. The check comes back with no record or enrollment only with no degree verified. As a result, now the requesting agency has to determine whether to adjudicate the investigation without the record or reach out to the applicant and have them provide a copy of the transcripts. This ends up being a huge time suck for personnel security staff. Although a lot has gotten better with the clearance process, some things have gone the other way.