Background InvestigationsObtaining Security Clearance

Same Old Song and Dance?

A February 15, 2008 reported on the “progress” being made to reduce security clearance processing time. The article contained a link to the February 2008 Report of the Security Clearance Oversight Group (SCOG). This is the third annual report to Congress regarding compliance with Title III of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. The report appears incomplete; however, when read together with OPM’s February 13, 2008 testimony before Congress, a relatively complete picture of the progress made during the past year emerges.

OPM reported that of initial clearance investigations received during Fiscal Year 2007, 80% were completed in an average of 67 days and 80% of initial clearances averaged 106 days end-to-end. However it also reported that all investigations for Top Secret clearances closed during FY07 averaged 222 days plus 111 days for Processing Time…All investigations for Secret/Confidential clearances closed during FY07 averaged 157 plus 86 days for processing. The report offers no explanation for the Processing Time.

We really hate to be negative about this, but looking at the posts from real people on this forum definitely conflicts with OPM’s findings. As much as we’d like to believe the recent improvements, we aren’t holding our breath. Based on candidate’s comments and personal research, the average time to receive a final Secret clearance has hovered around 12-14 months for more than half a decade, with Top Secret clearances taking even longer to process.

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    For Oct 06 to Sep 07 OPM is showing 106 days end-to-end on 80% of initial clearances, but for Oct 07 to Dec 07 they are showing 118 days. So, they are doing worse now than they were previously, if you believe any of these numbers. Of course this is not true “end-to-end,” because there appears to be an additional 86 to 111 days of “processing time” involved for which OPM does not accept responsibility.

    Most of the data in the report seems to be focused on the 1st quarter of FY08, but who cares about the 1st quarter of FY08? Title III of the IRTPA has specific requirements for cases after Dec 06. The data presented in the report does not appear to address this requirement, unless it is hiding in missing “Attachment 1.”

  2. Avatar

    William – good points, as always. The media eats up news tidbits like this assuming things are getting better. Facility-cleared government contractors would disagree with the OPM numbers.

  3. Avatar

    From what I see, the processing time is likely the week or so after I submit an Eqip to OPM that it takes to open.

    After about 5 days it lists as “scheduled”, then within the next 7 days, it moves to an open investigation.

    About 50% of clearance move to “CLOSED-PENDING” for a month or two, before being actually closed.

    DISCO appears to be one of the faster adjudication facilities which works in favor of contractors. Those who are government employees or military personnel often have the same waiting time for adjudication.

  4. Avatar

    I think one of the problems is that it is hard to find good quality people who will be come good background investigators. Just recently a potentional new investigator started in our area. He was doing a shadow week to see if he would be able to handle the job. He was late two times in meeting his trainer and his main concern was how long it would take for him to get his clearance so he could start looking for other work. Needless to say he was let go after one week.
    It takes a special type of person to do what we do, to talk to people about their personal lives, to meet sources at all hours of the day and night.
    Until the manpower is what it should be in all areas of the country the investigation portion of security clearances will be the factor that slows down the entire process.

  5. Avatar

    I’m due to go back stateside in the summer time frame. By then my SSBI will be adjudicated. I plan on trying to get a job as an investigator at OPM.

    It’s one of my career goals.

  6. Avatar

    My DoE Q clearance took about 10 months start to back, and that was with me admitting to past drug abuse. My old roommate took 3 years for the same investigation and he was squeaky clean. Everyone is different and that includes your OPM investigator. Mine admitted to hating her job so I promised to go easy on her. Perhaps this is why I slid through in such a short amount of time.

  7. Avatar

    I have been in the intel world for over 8 years. I have found that you do come across adjudicators that do hate their jobs. Also I have noticed since there is a BIG laps in getting folks cleared that it looks like they have stopped the 5 year rule. As long as nothing major has changed in your life they let you be…. I also saw where Bush said that in order to help this problem is to have one universal clearance for everyone. It does make it hard from you going from one agency to the next. Some don’t even want to bother with doing the paperwork to get your clearance from the other agency. To much red tape I think. Every one should play fair.

  8. Avatar

    The biggest problem with OPM handling the clearance process is that OPM does fully control it. Their reliance on contractors (mostly USIS) adds an extra layer of paperwork that is unnecessary. The clearance process should be handled entirely by federal employees. Every time a requirement changes, OPM must amend the contracts for each contractor involved. Since contractors are involved with the entire process from opening to imaging this becomes a delay. OPM employs more contractors than federal staff and much of the federal staff is involved in reviewing the contractor work for contract compliance. OPM should have answer questions about this relationship.

  9. Avatar

    How do I become a background investigator?
    I know I can do it and I need a job.

  10. Avatar

    Check USAJOBS, and each contractor website (currently USIS and Kroll)

  11. Avatar

    I agree with Mr. Henderson 110%!! What he says is so true….I’m living the story now with OPM and DISCO. How slow and sorry are these people? I recently departed the CIA in mid 2005 and I’m still trying to find out about my TS SSBI clearance and where is it!! My FSO can’t tell be jack! OPM says call DISCO! Disco says to call OPM!
    Where does a person get useful info he can trust???? Lawyer?…Congressman? Senator?



  12. Avatar

    My clearance closed on Jan 19th 2007 and I am still waiting for it to be adjudicated. It doesn’t matter how many staff are on hand, this wait is simply ridiculous.

  13. Avatar

    Everyone is “dead on” accurate with their experiences regarding their personal background investigations and the time it takes; not to mention the accountability factor.
    The collective “hand off” seems to be the operational protocol.

    Federal background investigations should remain Federal and should not be outsourced, i.e.: third party contractors. If third party sources are to be used (they always will be), due to Federal budget restraints or lack of personnel, then an appropriate educational program should be put in place for the independent contractor (IC). The IC is NOT trained adequately as “Confused” outlined in Her Nov. 8, 2007 post under security clearance investigators section. Job shadowing is not enough as “Investigator” outlined within this blog. Ask any Special Agent working for OPM how long their federal training was. Far more than a few weeks! There lies the crux of the matter. OPM (DOD previously did the federal background investigations), needs to hire more Federal investigators and stop the outsourcing of IC’s or the matters outlined within this blog will continue.

    For Spook…Wow! I am shaking my head as I write this! Having worked for “the Agency” you claim with your infinite resources you cannot access what you need? Two phones calls later, I obtained the answers and what was required to begin the process. FOIP is where you begin. Having worked for the three letter Agency you identified and inquiring about “who one can trust” regarding disclosure of ones background investigation—I find absurd. Maybe your fellow Spooks could better direct you?

  14. Avatar

    Right now I am working mostly SPINS for the Army at a base in VA. It is very difficult in locating the soldiers who need the SPINS. DEIDS tells me they are at a certain company at the base. I go to that company and they have no record of them there. I then contact the personnel locator for the base which sometimes tells me the same thing as DEIDS and sometimes tells me the soldier is at a completly different base not in VA. Not able to locate SUBJECTs is also causing the slow down espcially for the Army.

  15. Avatar

    I want to clarify that the job shadowing is just the first part of the training. It would be one week of job shadowing then the actual classroom training would occur. After that was finished there would be extensive OJT with a Supervisory or Senior Investigator. It would not be until after the OJT would a new investigator be put out in the field by himself or herself.

  16. Avatar

    Also it is my understanding that some of the federal background investigation process was “privatized” and given to third party contractors because OPM could not keep up with workload. By privatizing some of the background investigations in addition to using federal OPM agents the backlog was suppose to be reduced and the clearance time would be quicker. I understand that is not happening but I think it would be much worse if OPM was the only entity handling federal background investigaitons.

    Also a little tid bit of information. When USIS was formed in 1996 almost every single contractor who worked for USIS was a former OPM federal agent. They went to bed one night a federal OPM agent and woke up the next morning a USIS contractor. Of course now that is not the case. But all of the training done for new USIS investigators exactly the same as new OPM agents since both are learning the same information which is in the OPM Manual that takes a 4 inch binder to hold.

  17. Avatar

    Yes and No!

    I was a USIS independent contractor (IC), for 7 years working for both PSD and ISD divisions. All were not Federal agents, quite the contrary. Many are ex-military. In the seven years I worked for them, there was a very high turnover rate. Since I started, no one (particularly management), is still around…they all left to move on to other things, I was told. Full time investigators working on the OPM contract get the formal training you outlined above, plus a company car to use. Contractors get nothing other than a higher pay rate. They do not get benefits, company car or paid training. I job shadowed someone for a week (with no pay), to do SPINS. I was not the exception either. The individual, who I shadowed, claimed she just completed two other IC’s job training that consisted of only a week for each. She was considered “a senior” investigator with only three years with USIS. She had a four-year degree (something not related to criminal justice or law) with no prior law enforcement/investigative experience. She was hired directly out of College. Most IC’s are retired law enforcement of some kind trying to stay busy in their retirement. USIS likes this, so they do not have to invest much money in the individual, and the individual can be up and running in short order. I feel this should not be the case. The full timers take almost a year to get up and running on their own with all the formal training requirements. That is about what it takes to begin to understand the Federal Investigative handbook(s). The IC’s, however, are sent out with a week of job shadowing under their belt. I am told by yet another new station manger, that USIS is not getting the caseload they once did from OPM, and were cutting back on IC’s use. Hmmm? USIS is always looking for people, however, as any of the major job sites depict. That is a fundemental fact, check it out.

  18. Avatar

    I agree completly with you regarding the ICs. They do not get the training they should. One week of shadowing is not enough. I did not feel comfortable with the Handbook until almost 16-18 months on the job.

    I miss typed earlier when I said almost every single contractor was a federal agent one night and then became a USIS contractor the next day. I meant USIS employees were OPM federal agents who became employees of USIS. I said contractor because USIS employees are contractors retained by OPM.

    I have heard the opposite regarding the caseload OPM is giving USIS. Last I was told it is a little over 90%. Again I could have just been told that too to make it sound like USIS is doing well. I do know USIS is trying to grow into other background investigation markets such as local law enforcement and local fire/EMS.

  19. Avatar

    I would like to know how to request a re-open / reconsideration through the Sec of Defense. I have 4 years experience adjudication of clearances as a PSS 0080-11 with the Defense Office of Hearing and Appeals (DOHA). I had a alcohol incident in 2005, my clearance was denied in 2006. I have letters of recommendation from the DOHA Dept Counsel, PSD Chief and 20 or 30 other team leaders and co-workers.


  20. Avatar

    Right now there are about 18 investigators in the area I work. Only one of them is a former law enforcement officer. He is the one having the toughest time with the job. I have trained many investigators and the ones who are the former/retired law enforcement officers/investigators can not seem to understand the job. The type of investigations we do for the most part are civil investigations. They are not accusatory in nature. It is a tough adjustment for some of them. I feel the number one quality a good background investigator should have is organization.

  21. Avatar

    I have been a federal PSI (personal security investigator) for around 25 years (initially DIS, then DSS, now FIS).

    The truly tragic part of the entire effort to revamp the Government’s personal security investigations is that no one at the Congressional or decision-making level has EVER asked the field agents what has gone wrong or what could be done better.

    If you do the research you will find that GAO has been reviewing PSIs since the late 70s. The common theme has always been the same……lack of funds, lack of resources, lack of agents, lack of meaningful sponsorship. Every time there was a budget crunch one of the first things to be cut was PSI budget.

    When the Berlin wall came down there were around 2100 DIS field agents. When DOD transferred the function to OPM in FEB 05, there were 1260 trained agents transferred over (OPM and DOD will tell you the number was closer to 1800, but that included around 600 secretaries and IT people who had NO investigative training, but were handed badges one day and told to run cases).

    Do the math.

    You can see a primary reason for the backlog. There are other factors as well, but as GAO can demonstrate the Gov’t had clearly never (excluding a brief time in the mid 80s) fully resourced the PSI mission.

    There are other contributing factors as well, but mismanagement and disrespect for the mission are at the root of the problem.

  22. Avatar

    I completely agree with you Also an Investigator. The whole process needs to be revamped an until Congress sees that there will always be a backlog.

  23. Avatar

    To Investigator and Also an Investigator-

    Your tales ring true to me as well. I was hired in MAR 07 and had to put in my two weeks closing my career as an federal OPM investigator to one year and one week to the day. The number one reason that I left, besides illness due to stress from the job, was inadequate training. I know the stress problems were a direct result of wanting to do a good job but not feeling like I had the knowledge to do a good job. It’s interesting to hear stories from coworkers saying I would have gone far in OPM. I NEVER felt that I was being successful despite what others thought.

    I was asked to provide information to a trainer for OPM, someone who I had built a friendship with, for an unofficial exit interview. In candidly speaking with the trainer, the person was sad to hear that I was leaving and that it seemed that “all the good ones go.” My response to the trainer was…”What is management doing about it?” It is my opinion, that OPM’s FISD will remain a high churn employer in the DC/MD/VA area until a radical change in how things are done is examined and followed through. If no change is done, more money will need to be thrown at the investigators to make it worth their wild to keep doing what, in my own experience and talking to co-workers, is considered to be an unfulfilling job. My real concern is how OPM FISD will staff the mission after those who can retire do and not take advantage of government employees counting down years until retirement. It was easy for me to live and let go because I had no significant time invested into the federal service.

    I think OPM is at a chicken and egg situation…meaning things will not get better until they get more staff and the staffing situation will not improve because the unique nature of the job and its steep learning curve. Couple the steep learning curve with the never ending load, and people tend to move on to different jobs making the same if not more and enjoying less stress.

    I’ve left OPM on good terms, with no resentment, and a genuine wish for FISD and my fellow former co-workers success in the future.


  24. Avatar

    Funny how a government DoD contractors would say that all investigators should be fed employees. Let’s give all the DoD work back to the military and only Fed employees only–not something many would like. I will say that about 2-3 million of these cases probably come down the chute each year. Think about how much work that is. Besides, about half of those are probably unecessary. I have personally worked cases in which the person has never reviewed or will probably never see any classified material. The convenience of “Let’s clear everyone just in case” has bogged the process down in a bad way. I will agree with many that the process could be improved, but this is no different than any other process.

  25. Avatar


    The “Investigator” post at 11:39pm on 03/25/08 is not the same person as the previous “Investigator” posts. I am the “Investigator” for the other posts in this section.

    To that “Investigator” could you please change your posting name so there is no confusion? Thanks

  26. Avatar

    Several experienced contract investigators were unlawfully suspended for security concerns that were never proven, did not exist, which included a process to defame their characters; disrupting livelihoods; and were judged as a Federal Employees, which they were not.

    A contract investigator fighting an unjust claim of being unsuitable by OPM FISD, after working for some time in the industry commited suicide.

    The suspensions were conducted by Kathy Dillaman of OPM FISD, her staff to include those of USIS who were contracted by Dillaman to review the work of contract investigators.

    Contracting Companies conducting backgrounds for OPM FISD and other agencies for years QUIT the OPM FISD contract (MSM & Omnisec) which caused a loss of over 4 thousand contract investigators and knowledgeable staff, because of OPM FISD abuse of power…

    Those wrongfully accused of unproven criminal acts, made every effort to obtain proper due process, but OPM Officials failed in every sense of the word to provide fair and impartial justice, and purposely disregarded all responses and correspondence. The offices included: Director of OPM; OPM Inspector General; OPM FISD and the OPM General Counsel.

    Dillaman, Director of OPM FISD purposely delays all inquiries against her, and her office, by ignoring all requests and appeals, which in it self is the route to the delays of security backgrounds. All those of OPM FISD had deliberately ignored our Constitutional and Federal Laws, Regulations and OPM Notices. Even the OPM General Counsel’s Office to include the OPM IG ignored all responses for a request of due process.

    OPM FISD continuous deception and delays, is an endless road. The lack of fair and impartial justice not given and abuse of power, by those within OPM is the real reason for the backlog. Those great man and woman, with extensive experience, that have been conducting security backgrounds for years, under contract, are leaving the business, because of Dillaman and her staff’s unethical practices of abuse and injustice..

    There are people in the business that can correct the backlog of security backgrounds in months, but because of the reputation of injustice and abuse of power, to include deception of OPM FISD, it will never be corrected.

    This country depends on our soldiers and agents in the field, to protect us. Since the 80’s those soldiers and agents continued after retirement, as contract investigators, conducting Security Background Investigations for little money and got the job done, out of patriotism, and loyalty, but now we have those that are greedy, incompetent running our country’s security, like OPM FISD who has over 90% of the Security Background Investigative duties and can’t get it done – we deserve everything we get, if this country and those in our government don’t wakeup NOW.

  27. Avatar

    My apologies to Investigator. I used the same screen name in error on 03/25/2008, at 11:39 pm.

    I’m not sure what company folks work for, but all new IC’s go through the same training as OPM folks–as it is mandated by OPM and all training is approved through them. I however, having 20 years in criminal justice went through a 5 day condensed course. Others are correct, it takes time to learn the manual. On the other hand, many IC’s never take the time to learn it. Many with law enforcement backgrounds believe they already know the job. Anyone in LE should know, OPM Investigations are not the same and should not equate the two. Also, I have a direct line (Inv Help Team) to folks who have been in the game for years, some over 20. Some Investigators need to learn how to swallow their pride and ask for help when unsure–there is no shame in asking and the team is very helpful and not judgmental.

  28. Avatar

    I am a naturalized US citizen. I have started my own company in technical/IT consulting. Is there a way for me to apply for my security clearance?