Security Clearance Process

Using Artificial Intelligence to Help Clear the Investigation Backlog

With all of the process changes regarding background investigations implemented by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Defense Security Service (DSS), one would think the backlog numbers would start shrinking. Yet based on the recent report from the National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB) it still seems to be going the other way. DoD has invested in using a continuous evaluation system lieu of periodic reinvestigations and other measures to reduce the time it takes for initial clearance investigations to get completed.

There is also a push from certain sectors to leverage artificial intelligence (or machine learning) to further assist in reducing the investigation backlog. A recent article in Nextgov provides an interesting perspective on how we could use AI to parse through massive amounts of data and make the security clearance process much more efficient. This direct quote from the story pretty much sums it all up :

“It is important for key decision-makers at the Pentagon to understand that machine learning is a tool that investigators and reviewers should use in making clearance determinations by flagging risk factors to be further evaluated before a final determination is made. Using machine-learning tools does not mean simply trusting AI robots to make critical national security rulings, but instead help more efficiently flag risks for human evaluation.”

In my opinion this “machine learning” tool is a force multiplier and would help clear cases a lot faster. It would not replace investigators and adjudicators, but rather assists them in reviewing no-issue cases and identifying flags that need further scrutiny and follow-up.


  1. I think that a better solution, or a great addition to this solution, is going to be an update to the guidelines used by adjudicators in making their initial decision. In particular, I think that cases that include derogatory financial information need to be looked at differently.

    If appears that the current methodology ignores (or pays too little attention to) mitigating factors provided as part of the initial application or were provided during the investigation.

    In my case, my wife and I suffered through some serious financial issues caused by a failed business, the housing crisis of 2007/8, and the poor economy of the following years that resulted in several periods of un- and under-employment for me. I was up front about everything when I applied for my clearance in 2016. I provided explanations (as well as you can squeeze them into the SF86) and provided far more detailed information to my investigator in early 2017. When I received my SOR, I replied with more and updated information and was still forced to a hearing. During the hearing process I duplicated all of the information already provided and the judge ruled in my favor in about a month. DODCAF threatened to appeal that decision but decided against it about a week later.

    The intelligence needed, artificial or natural, is for adjudicators to look at cases that have been decided by the ALJs and incorporate that into their decisions. If it can be shown that the applicant is very likely to be granted clearance after a hearing, they should be granting clearance at their level.

    This would significantly reduce the number of cases going to hearings and would help with the workload on the lawyers and the ALJs. It could have cut at least six months from my clearance process and I don’t think that it would have an affect on the rigorousness of the overall process.

  2. Well said Ed. Sorry you got caught short in that economic nightmare. But kudos to you for fighting your way through it. You have a great sense of street smarts regarding these situations, sadly learned in person. I think any and all financial bumps during the 07/08 recession should be looked at differently. It wasn’t until my client personally felt the recession in their own people experiencing crashed home values that they lightened up and had a bit more empathy regarding lost equity. Homes costing 700K to 800K were suddenly selling under 400K in the northern Va. If you had to PCS you had to move…and not many can carry a northern Va mortgage and any other kind of rent or mortgage. I’m glad you share your experiences here first hand.

  3. Great Idea, however this process is a money grab. The lawyers and judges need to stay gainfully employed as well as the BI. My suggestion is do away with Public Trust investigations period. They are not relevant to national security. Yes we should keep secret, TS etc. and have better optics in this space. I have yet to read or hear about anyone with a public do any harm to national security. However since its all about the money, they will continue. Perhaps if your have a public and your already in the job doing it well. then no re investigation needed.

  4. I doubt that they are talking about eliminating ANY investigators and my point is that the lawyers and judges are over worked today. They will be able to apply more time and energy to the cases that warrant it.

  5. You want to make the process faster?

    Time to add in automatic disqualifiers, felony arrest in last x amount of years, bankruptcy, etc. Too much time spent on cases where the subject has a history of irresponsibility.

    Your case papers filed out incorrectly, full stop on case and sent back to fill out correctly and start the clock over.

    Hold recruiters responsible for falsification.

    References should be done via inquiry and more of them. Ask for 10, look for 5 responses, etc.

    Pass legislation that no one can be held civially liable for cooperating with a national security investigation.

    Pass legislation that any agency or company loses federal funding for not cooperating.

    Align investigations with the adjudicative quidelines, too much time spent on questioning and typing info no one cares about.