Background Investigations

What’s Behind Low Morale for Background Investigators?

At the tail-end of a recent Security Clearance Podcast, we asked ClearanceJobs contributor and President of the Federal Clearance Assistance Service William Henderson what he sees behind the current low morale of background investigators.

“For the longest time there has been a lot of pressure on investigators to complete cases,” said Henderson. Background investigators are a workforce under constant pressure. And while the pendulum was supposed to swing toward more quality investigations, the demand on investigators remains to churn out as many completed investigations as quickly as possible. And many lack the support system of on-site management.

“Almost all background investigators today – the vast majority of them – work from home,” said Henderson. “They don’t have an office to go to, they don’t have the normal social interaction that other works do. They obviously cannot get into a social conversation with the people that they’re interviewing. They can only address what needs to be done in the interview.”

“Secondly, the fact that so many investigators work for contractors, and contractors are motivated by profit, and consequently the people who get elevated into leadership positions are those who are the most productive, and they’re only able to maintain their supervisory position by pressing their subordinates to be more productive.

“The emphasis seems to be solely on productivity than on quality. And that’s what causes investigators to burn out.”

The other issue with a background investigation workforce that is 100 percent remote is the lack of institutional knowledge or experience. Many investigators burn out after just a year on the job, and in that time they never had the chance to truly learn the ropes from an experienced investigator.

“You learn a lot through interaction with your coworkers,” said Henderson. “It’s not enough to go to a four or five or even six week class to learn how to be a background investigator…you learn a lot from how other investigators have handled cases.”


  1. AMEN! This should not be a for-profit game.

  2. Let’s see, an impossibly confusing Tier system with a complete lack of training, while working more complicated cases case (MAVNI, translator, etc.), all while demanding more and more production.

    Let’s not forget the all stick and no carrot approach as well, doesn’t matter how many issues were covered or how much investigation you had to do, how long the report is, you miss one thing, RZ!

  3. William Henderson is the man. He summed up nicely the biggest issues with the low morale among investigators. I think a for-profit company can do as good a job or better than the government. We saw that with Keypoint prior to it being taken over by a private equity firm and the installation of a titular CEO. Since then the pressure to maximize profits and push, push, push to close cases has gotten ludicrous. Constant and ever-changing stunts to churn out cases faster is so demoralizing to investigators and thinning out the investigator ranks quickly. Every job requires you sometimes have to go a little above and beyond sometimes to be satisfied with your work. To do so now, in the investigator job, is self-defeating. You will never receive harassing phone calls or emails for doing a half-assed job. You will the aforementioned and veiled threats of termination if you miss some production mark and some artificial due dates (ACDs). This is always hanging over investigators and they can never find any security or peace of mind in their job.

  4. He really hits the nail on the head at the end of the pod cast about being able to learn from your compatriots. I can remember a time when my closest co-workers and I tried to make time to do a luncheon at least once a month and they were very informative from a knowledge sharing stand-point, but sadly those days have been at least 5-7 years ago now.

    And from a training standpoint, I for one refuse to train anymore, because I’m tired of wasting my time with people who will leave after as little as six months in, once they’ve seen the light-of-day with the proverbial “rest of the story” as the late and great Paul Harvey so eloquently stated! At the end days with USIS (and now KGS) they did not deserve anyone they were managing to hood-wink into this industry!