Security Clearance Federal Investigative Standards – A Sign of the Times?
As public opinion sways, so does the security clearance process. At least that’s the argument a contributor at ClearanceJobs.com made recently. He unpacked several of the ways that Federal Investigative Standards have, or will, change to reflect societal shifts.
What FIS updates do you see on the horizon?
FOREIGN INFLUENCE AND SECURITY CLEARANCES
Take for instance foreign relationships and contacts: an ever increasing percentage of Americans are foreign born. This has increased the number of households who have relatives that are foreign citizens. Additionally, second generation Americans are now embracing their heritage and roots and developing contacts with extended families overseas. More and more people from countries that were high on the CIA watch lists like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are now becoming naturalized U.S. citizens while still maintaining close bonds to their homelands. Two guidelines, Foreign Preference and Foreign Influence, are intertwined and may evolve into being called Foreign Involvement. The focus of concern would be on actions taken to be involved in foreign politics, foreign employment, foreign property/business ownership, taking up arms for a foreign military, and in general, taking any action that might be in conflict with U.S. policy and interests.
EXPERIMENTAL DRUG USE AND SECURITY CLEARANCES
Regarding the Drug Involvement guideline, recent changes within individual States reflect the change in attitude towards casual use. Although still a violation of Federal law, and still a concern and potentially disqualifying, experimental drug use in high school and college is now normal and is not viewed as negatively as in the past. Of course mitigating factors still have to be applied and depends on the type of drugs, frequency of use, and recency of use, but there is no longer the stigma of being a drug user that was portrayed in the past. The focus disqualifying conduct will be on diagnosed abuse and dependency, and following and completing treatment administered by professionals used as a mitigating factor.
INABILITY TO PAY DEBT
Under the Financial Considerations guideline, the focus will be on whether an individual is “unwilling” to pay their just debts or they don’t have the “ability” to pay due to circumstances beyond their control. The recent economic downturn caused many to have homes foreclosed on or forced them to file for bankruptcy. These issues can be mitigated as long as the circumstances that caused the debt were not due to irresponsibility and positive steps are taken to resolve the delinquencies.
As far as cohabitation goes, living together without being married is now the norm and it matters not whether it is in a heterosexual or homosexual context. Previously, same-sex partners were ostracized and susceptible to blackmail. Now, due to societal changes, those who choose to live an open relationship regardless of their sexual orientation are not a concern due to the possibility of blackmail being nullified.
The challenges that security professionals face in today’s society are many. Lines are blurred, attitudes change, and acceptable behavioral norms are constantly shifting. In order to make sense of what it all means as far as risk to your security, analysis and understanding requires adaptability, flexibility, and a fair amount of common sense. Security today is all about managing and assuming an acceptable level of risk. Security guidelines are just that: guidelines. They are there to help mitigate risk, but will never fully eliminate it. As evidenced by recent notorious classified information leaks, human behavior is never 100% predictable and there are many shades of gray. We can only strive to do the best we can.
So basically what we are seeing is the moral decay of America going on yet the federal governments standards and norms will continue to shift to what behavior and morals society accepts. Precisely why doing this job is so unrewarding as we investigate people and discover huge flaws in people’s honest, integrity, character, conduct, ethics, and morals yet we continue to see these types of people get security clearances as long as nobody says they are susceptible to blackmail or coercion. An ex-felon couldn’t get a job at Walmart or any other private sector job but this same person can work on a military base or a federal facility and get a top secret security clearance.
It’s only a matter of time before pre-employment and employment BI’s are ruled unconstitutional. In fact, in 2012 President Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that background checks in employment hiring is discriminatory. There was a piece in The Washington Examiner a couple days ago about this subject. It’s only a matter of time this is picked up by DOJ and then SCOTUS. There will be no background investigators– as we know them– in the near future. And the OPM paper-pushers will be tasked with meeting employees to make sure that their employer and superiors have not made them feel uncomfortable about not speaking English, setting up their prayer rug in the hallway, and smoking marijuana in their cubicle.
“There will be no background investigators-as we know them-in the near future” I think OPM FIS will be around for a long time. I think the contractor market may be an afterthought in a few years but I don’t see the correlation of the EEOC getting rid of the BI security clearance industry for federal/contractor positions nationwide.
I read the article you linked and I’d be surprised if Obama’s EEOC is passed by legislation but he’ll probably take executive order and push it on through anyways.
I see a lot of things changing in the future with the security clearance industry like eliminating contractors and probably downsizing more face to face interviewing and have more data base driven BI’s in the future. Only time will tell. In the meantime, the work continues to be very unrewarding for the reasons stated above. You would think that the government would want to get the most highly qualified people in these positions of national security whom also have integrity, character, conduct, ethics, morals (the politically correct folk won’t define any longer what is or isn’t moral), and overall the type of person whom is being considered. In stead, we do a cookie cutter type of report according to OPM standard instead of empowering the Investigators whom work for OPM or whom contract with OPM to really do an “Investigation”.
KGS’s OPM program manager resigned today. He had been with the company since its inception. In the last few months, Keypoint has lost its HR chief, CEO, and now OPM program manager. If it weren’t for all the issues contractors have been facing in the last 10 months, it would be easy to discount this as pure coincidence. But given everything going on, including now layoffs, one has to wonder what’s going on.
This is interesting news. The way you describe it, TW, makes it sound like it was Friday afternoon info/news dump. That is not good. And it looks like OPM is out of the BI/security clearance business. OPM S/A’s better be trying to do an inter-gov transfer before the RIF’s come down.
Yeah, the writing has been on the wall for a while. The writing just got bolder when the KGS OPM PM left. Of course this was announced on a Friday at the end of the day (insert “Office Space” quote here).
Darrow, where did you hear that OPM is out of BI game?
Let’s hear your reasons why OPM is out of the BI game?
It is just a guess based on the tidbits I’ve read on the changes/recommendations coming down that will be presented to the Administration (April?). TW referenced the abrupt resignation (jumping ship) of KGS’s OPM PM which suggests there won’t be a transitional period. As I said previously, the higher-ups know what is coming down and got a “burn after reading” heads up and where told to keep things on the q.t.
I think we are going to see a wholesale consolidation (in-sourcing) of the whole BI process and we will no longer even see outsourcing to other government agencies. Clapper said last fall that there are too many people with clearances and too much of the (defense/security/intel) contractor work involved classified stuff. My guess is there will be a major
[sorry, I prematurely cut off my last comments]
…move to insource the classified work. The Benjamin Bishop case, the 60-year old defense contractor and former Army officer who yesterday pled guilty to passing classified info to his 28-year old Chinese paramour, only bolsters the case for the proposed changes. Guys like Bishop are out of the chain of command and out of the direct eyes of secure facilities.
It is all just reading the tea leaves, but things like the former business development exec at USIS and KGS (Jonathan Goldman) leaving to become chief growth officer, at an up-and-coming contractor who does a lot of DHS/non-DoD fed work, is a clue.
It’s an educated guess about the information that you have shared and that could come to fruition
On a different note, I am surprised that USIS is still seeing strong schedulings from OPM and they have a healthy work load on hand now currently. Makes me wonder why KGS isn’t getting the work that they have been getting in years past. Doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. USIS of all places shouldn’t be getting more of the work as they are under criminal and civil investigation for contract fraud but they continue to get more work than the other players in the government contracting world in the BI contract. I know USIS is the prime contractor on this contract but you would think at a minimum KGS and CACI would stay status quo.
The process can’t just stop and the govt still has contracts to fulfill. Companies don’t just dump hundreds of employees just because. The story has not yet been told to the worker bees.
OPM calls for changes in federal background checks
Surprisingly, no call for Federalizing background investigations and it recommended continued use of contractors.
There seems to be one fact discussed in the recommendation that should concern any private-side OPM BI. A big part of the plan is to majorly reduce TS clearances. This is 90+% of contractor work. I think what you’ll see, if some BI remains private, is scrap work, record checks, MBI’s, etc. Just like as is laid out in the Congressional Bill.
“OPM oversees U.S. government background checks, but much of the work is done by contractors. Only federal employees make the final decision about whether to grant clearances. OPM’s report described the use of contracted screeners as “an appropriate practice and consistent with regulations, provided the necessary oversight, metrics and controls are in place.” But the review found that the government lacks consistent standards for measuring the quality of its background checks.”
OPM cares? Yeah, sure. For OPM quantity equaled quality for more than a decade. Contractor companies pushed through as much work as possible for profit. Having done the job I can say this led to a shoddy product at best. Like constructing buildings in a day. Didn’t have time to put in floor joists? No problem, i-note out perfunctory attempts to obtain them and be done with it. Company’s gotta get paid.
Okay, who did this guy’s BI? Or does it even matter anymore?! Born in Afghanistan. As a cop was using an FBI database to tip off friends from his mosque. When questioned by federal agents he denied knowing the people he gave info to (sorry, Martha Stewart, lying to Feds about terrorist ops is apparently a slap of the wrist). He gets probation. Goes on USAJobs and gets a $90k starter Fed job working at the IRS.
Washington Post: Pentagon considers retaking control of security clearance checks
“The Pentagon is moving toward taking back responsibility for vetting security-clearance applicants, a process that has come under increased scrutiny since investigators found widespread problems that they said contributed to national security threats…
One of those reviews, an independent report ordered by Hagel, criticized the OPM, saying that its process “lacks transparency” and that its ‘contract investigators reduce investigations to checklists.’”
The rest of the article can be found at link below.
Geez, who would’ve thought that farming this investigative work out to the biggest paper-pushing federal agency would “reduce investigations to checklists”?! Next thing they’ll say is it reduced investigations to endless bureaucratic changes under the pretext of improving quality.
Sobering news if infact DOD takes over their own investigations. USIS, CACI, and KGS would cease to exist…..
Did you read the comments for this Washington Post article?! Wow. Quite a few of those people have intimate knowledge of the process and no one thought insourcing and reclamation by DoD was anything but a no-brainer.
I have been following this industry closely because I wanted to do some subcontracting business ideas with the private side. No longer. There is zero chance there will be anything but a shell left of the private side in 18 months. There will be scraps of work for retired LEO’s with inside DoD connections to get one of the record-checking gigs. That’s it.
What I always thought absurd about the OPM BI process is that it seemed– at least at the investigator level– it was equally or more important to resolve minutiae such as overlaps of part-time employments than it was to deal with real national security issues. The latter were just a checklist series of necessary points (later disclaimers in reports) from the SPIN table. You never got re-opened for more discussion on the Subject’s general attitude or thoughts on some critical national security issue they might have been involved in. But you will be re-opened if you don’t address why the Subject didn’t list the exact address or a supervisor’s title on a listed employment fifteen years ago (on an SSBI-PR). Or a unlisted trip to Canada 7 years ago they only know about because the Subject listed it last investigation. The whole OPM BI process needs overhaul when it moves to DoD. And no OPM S/A need apply. They can go back to reading bogus KSA’s on gubmint employment applications.
Agree with Darrow 100%
Wow Darrow, sour grapes or what?
DoD would be crazy to want the program back, this is their way to drive down the price of investigations.
If you run your investigations via checklist, you have no one to blame but yourself.
A lot of folks have been much more critical of the current state of security clearance BI process than I. One of the top experts in the defense industry, John Hamre, has been brutal in his criticism. The Washington Post has been brutal. Read the comments on the WP article link. But radical changes are coming to the BI process so all my critical remarks will soon be as out-of-date as DOS-based databases.
Oh yeah, John Hamre, the guy who complianed about his ESI and having to go ove the SF-86 again.
He swore it was all true and correct.
Yes, of course, because in the ESI no new information is ever developed and they SF-86s are always filled out correctly.
Yeah, tell me another story.
I did read the comments on that Washington Post Article. To be honest, I really didn’t find that many people that were saying DOD taking over their own investigations is a “no-brainer”. This information of DOD taking over their security clearances could very well happen though and I don’t blame DOD for wanting to distance themselves from the OPM BI Process. What I did find interesting in the Washington Post comments is all of the feds investigators saying how bad of a job that OPM contractors do. I’m not sure if they were referring to Ind. Contractors or just the entire contractor force in general. Most of the co-workers and employees I have met with the company (USIS) that I work for have been very hardworking, integritable, and ethical people in all senses of the word. there are always bad eggs out there whether they be on the contractor or Fed side. I will say however, that my experience with Fed Investigators has been also with mixed results. One Fed who did my initial SSBI seemed to go over very little in the ESI. The more recent Fed was very thorough with the Subject Interview and was probably thorough because he knew that I know the process after 5 years and he wouldn’t be able to pull wool over my eyes. I’m just hoping for change whether it be bad or good at this point in my career. This OPM BI Product we all deliver like Darrow has mentioned seems to care more about the minutia than the actual issues and suitability concerns that an adjudicator would really care about. Time for an overhaul or in the very least some major tweaks to this process.
The contractor investigator (FTE/contractor) is the only thing the OPM BI process has going for it. Every one of them I worked with (USIS, CACI, KGS) was smart, diligent, hardworking, and extremely impressive. It always amazed me how they could get the caliber of investigator they got given the nature of the job. I think nearly every one of them did and does make up for the inherent deficiencies (stupidity) in the OPM BI process and the inherent greed and ridiculous demands of the private companies they work for. It would be a damn shame for DoD to not make use of this unusual concentration of exceptional talent. I think some smart folks in the revamping process might see this as well. One would hope.
I would agree with your last comment. I think most FTE/Contractor’s are hoping that they can get picked up by some Fed agencies whether it be OPM or DOD themselves in the next few months/years when this overhaul eventually happens. I known that’s how I feel. And you are exactly right about the greed of the private companies. It’s downright shameful.
In the revamped BI process the idiocy of getting together with a Subject for the purpose and corroborating/correcting/explaining biographical details on the security questionnaire has gotta go. A highly-respected figure in the defense industry, Jon Hamre, made this his key criticism in his commentary in the Washington Post. He’s 100% correct. It’s ridiculous and highly inefficient. It there is really is a need for this stuff than have some administrative assistant with a Bluetooth headset from Pennsylvania set up a time to go over this stuff with the Subject over the phone. Bam… you just eliminated a boatload of unnecessary PII printed and taken out and saved a bunch of trees. The AA would tell the Subject to have his security questionnaire and all necessary documents with him that will be gone over during the call. Give the Subject a heads up and tell him to have verifier contact info ready to provide as well. Than make Subject interviews about issues. Real issues. Not some $40 medical bill that went to collection but shacking up with Svetlana and sometimes meeting with Xio Ping for drinks (all CE developed stuff ;-). Subject interviews should be 95% BS-ing and less than 5% writing. Instead of the “Sorry, let me write that down… ‘Subject…did… not… list… his… former… supervisor’s… contact… information… be… he… is… deceased… and… the… business… is…no… longer… located… there…’. Sorry about that, everything in my ROI has to be in my notes, and most of my ROI will consist of usual stuff like that. Okay, you were saying something about people accusing you of torching the place? But you didn’t and you never received a disciplinary action, right? Okay, moving on.
I’m with you, and the positive hope that WHATEVER agency winds up with the task of doing the BI’s that the door will open to experienced investigators, who know how to do the job. I keep waiting for someone to comment on how many employees (if in-sourcing occurs) will it take to get the job done, as there is no way that that many people could just be scooted over from another Fed department or agency to do the job. A task this large would require a new agency to be created, within DOD. There will have to be additional investigators hired from somewhere, don’t ya think?? No single agency or department has that many people they can “spare”. If we are in agreement on that point, then which labor pool will all these additional people come from? Private or FED side??
Somebody please just tell me where to start sending my resume to…
Also, any idea on when a final decision might be made? This huge looming question about WHO will be doing investigations in the future is driving me crazy.