Security Clearance Process

Will New OPM Oversight Help the Clearance Process?

In the wake of Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis, Congress is in a push to reform the security clearance process. Where congressional testimony in years past focused on the need to speed up the clearance process and make it easier for cleared personnel to get to work on classified projects, today’s push centers around increased scrutiny and more oversight.

This week the House approved the OPM-IG Act, which allows the Inspector General to access funds to conduct oversight activities. The Senate had already taken a stab at security clearance reform, with the Security Clearance Reform and Oversight Enhancement Act approved in October.

While Congress pushes for reform, the security clearance backlog caused by sequestration continues. In January DSS posted an update to its site noting that 6,000 eQIPs were in the queue for submission – down from a high of over 13,000.

As efforts for security clearance reform continue, a variety of options remain on the table, from continuous monitoring (wait – wasn’t PRISM already doing that?) to shorter periods between reinvestigations (my guess is that won’t help with the backlog). One issue each of these initiatives fails to take into consideration is the impact on the current security clearance investigation and adjudication process and workforce. In a sequestration budget environment, dollars may be shifted but it’s unlikely that an influx of funds will beef up the number of personnel dedicated to the task. New IT advancements, while necessary, also won’t fully solve the problem of ensuring more complete investigations.

Insourcing remains on the table, and many security clearance investigators are left asking if their jobs will remain as-is, or will soon be shifted into the public sector.

Comment Archive

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    if they were to insource I wonder how it would be done and if OPM would continue to conduct the investigations.

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    One proposal, I’ve heard, is that DSS will take back DoD investigations by fiscal year 2016. That’s just a proposal, but it will be interesting to see what happens. If it does happen, would DSS continue to allow investigations to be outsourced or would they in-source the work?

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    If this goes to an all government workforce, it will be very difficult for current experienced investigators who are not veterans or have no former federal employment to be hired. Should be interesting.

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    There is no way they could insource all the work and OPM isn’t going to give up the program without a fight. I just don’t see how DSS could do it cheaper.

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    I heard the OPM is going through some reorganization of its management of the field investigators and opening offices in places. Anyone else heard this?

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    Dead on. You think it’s bad now, wait til they hire non-experienced and based on vet pref only. I hope to see the vet pref go away or lessen in some fashion. The military need to be placed in line like everyone else and get hired on merit.

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    Not so sure BW an Investigator that you would want to do away with vet preference. I am a contractor and in my area find most of us are vets who understand the lingo, and military environment. Where were you in line when you had the opportunity to serve in the military. Ah, that’s right, there wasn’t any money to be made in the military.

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    Here is an article from CNN about criminal charges against USIS:

    As an OPM investigator who was laid off when USIS was created, I think the history of this will prove to be a questionable decision.

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    civil charges – not criminal. However I cannot believe that no criminal charges will be forthcoming. I also think that these scum CEO/Pres/VP of USIS will roll in a heartbeat and that some OPM people will be involved. It’s the lowly Bi and reviewer that suffer and will lose their jobs when USIS goes bankrupt.

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    Tennessee Contractor

    You are clever–I see what you did there–subtle jab. I have 20 years military service, but I do not really feel the need to justify my opinions. I’m in no way saying vets didn’t do great things. I’m saying we all volunteered to do it. I was also a hiring authority for the govt and I got at least 100 resumes with vet pref and not a one were remotely qualified for the job applied for. Answer from the personnel center–we can’t promise quality only quantity due to preference. Many vets, but sadly not all vets, take advantage of their benefits, get educated and get qualified like everyone else. Not too much to ask for.

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    NY INV: thanks for the clarification and I agree with you 100%.

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    Meritocracy. Either this or we accept becoming a third-rate country.

    Born and bred Americans who fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam make sacrifices to send their kids to college only to have their kids summarily passed over for some unqualified Filipino or Burmese immigrant who joined the USAF or USN for professional reasons.

    Visit Bethesda Naval. The PHS is becoming exclusively non-American. Stupid Americans are working their asses off getting qualifications and experience.

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    Sorry, I didn’t come back to SCJB to comment about vet preference. Friday’s dump should give a pretty accurate picture of where security clearance BI system is heading.

    Queue up the world’s smallest violin:

    Snowden debacle costing Providence Equity

    The Edward Snowden spy affair… threatens Jonathan Nelson’s Providence Equity Partners.
    One of Nelson’s largest investments — $782 million in equity — is in Altegrity, the parent company of USIS, which allegedly failed to do a proper background check on Snowden.
    That 2007 leveraged buyout is now in jeopardy.
    Link for rest of story]

    [Karma’s a bitch, Jon. 😉 Oy, and when it rains it pours…see next story below — Darrow]

    Feds seeks billions from Snowden security background check firm

    [USIS has as much chance of surviving this for even one year as the NY Jets have of winning Super Bowl LXVIII– Darrow].

    Feds may run own background checks after Snowden

    From Roll Call:
    Will Court Case Give New Impetus for Background Check Overhaul?

    OPM’s 2014 budget has a reduction in spending and salaries:
    OPM plans to trim 356 employees in March

  14. Avatar

    Sorry, one of my posted links didn’t work. My bad:

    Feds seeks billions from Snowden security background check firm

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    It looks like my links to Friday news dumps is caught in moderation limbo. In a nutshell, the private equity firm (Providence Equity) behind the leveraged buyout of USIS (that destroyed USIS and the quality work they were doing) is in a world of hurt. The Feds are seeking billions from USIS. Congressional news sources (including CQ, Roll Call) are running pieces on the push to insource BI’s.

    It looks like major, radical changes are coming. I feel bad for all the hardworking BI’s and reviewers at USIS, as well as other contractors. I hope the FBI has grabbed all the emails of USIS/Providence Equity senior mgmt. Especially Bill Mixon who was, to quote the WSJ, “flogging his executives for not pushing security investigations through fast enough.” I hope the only thing Mixon worries about in the next 5 years is how to minimize his being anally sodomized in a level 5 federal penitentiary.

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    I was with DIS, DSS, and escaped from OPM and I am a vet. The only thing being a vet got me was a few points added to my application. My resume included the Marine Corps, Vietnam, college honors, foreign language proficiency, international travel, and cultural knowledge. The vets that I worked with were all from the various intelligence groups of the military. They had extensive knowledge of the process. Some worked on the Pollard case. One worked on the Walker case. I am pretty sure that their experience in the investigative field held more sway in their getting the position than just being a vet. We had a vet in our office that had limited experience and poor work habits; he was let go prior to completing his probationary period.

    DSS did use contractors in the early 1990s. The contractors were retired police, FBI, ATF, military intelligence, and even retired DSS personnel. They were retired professionals, not fresh out of school kids with no life experience. The non-DSS people had to attend the DSS Investigator School, for training, before they received a DSS badge. Some didn’t make it. Their casework had to be equal to work of the DSS agents. If their work was not up to par, their contract was not renewed. The Field Office SAC reviewed their cases before being sent on, ensuring that the case was completed and up to DSS specifications.

    The first USIS interviewer I met had been on the job for three years and had never interviewed an alleged rapist, drug dealer, Gen. Officer that had smoked marijuana or given his wife a STD, or white supremacist. Apparently we weren’t doing the same job. On my first case working alone, I found information that led to the discovery of a CEO being blackmailed by his former mistress.

    Those wanting to jump me can take a number. I look at this site about once every four to six weeks. I’m heading to the coast on Sunday for some sailing.

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    What’s the fun of ‘jumping you’ if you’re not around to respond?


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    On my first case working alone, I found information that led to the discovery of a CEO being blackmailed by his former mistress.

    That’s all well and good, but were you able to make the ACD? And how were you able to submit the case with every ROI needing the mindless standard blackmail disclaimer? Then again, if a Subject is currently being blackmailed he or she no longer can be potentially blackmailed so I guess the case reviewer told you to put the blackmail disclaimer in the ROI.

    Sounds like the downward spiral for quality clearance investigations began when they were taken away from DSS.

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    They no longer care about issues. All they want is a case they can submit as complete. Years ago we would be pushed to develop issues and if our issue percentage was low they would get on us. Now you are penalized for developing issues that may make the case go past CD. The contractors are still the way to go as they are competing for the contract and fighting for business is good. No offense but every single fed I have come across in over 10 years has been a joke compared to any contractor. Honestly, to the point of being scary. The entire system itself needs to be revamped and all this admin and blanket negative reporting needs to go. Who really cares if the subject was unemployed in high school or someone cannot recall the date of their 3rd of 5 dui’s over the last 30 years….they are still going to get the job

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    I no longer work as a BI but I look back wistfully to the time I started and bitterly to the time I ended. I was a fed (not BI but Natl Sec) before I was a contractor BI. Many of the contractor BIs are the highest quality. Problem is the private companies are only concerned about the bottom line. After all, they are in business. But private equity firms have roid rage when it comes to profits. Bad for the way BI’s need to be done. Most importantly, OPM has only facilitated the degradation of the BI process with its one principle: “Timeliness is good”. Issues? Who’s got time for issues?! A BI investigator spent more time flipping through the handbook to see if this or that case type required one or two personal sources and then after not being sure because he or she remembers some email memo a few months back regarding a change on this for one of the case types. Insanity. Just give back BI’s to DSS. Eliminate all the BS personal source coverage reqts and Privacy Act. Be like TMZ and get tips and the scoop on people off the record. Eliminate everyone and his uncle and his 17-year old son joining the military from having a clearance.

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    You know, there is a reason DSS lost the program in the first place.

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    That’s everyone but you of course 🙂

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    DSS lost BI’s because their rules made background investigations take too long and this caused the major backlog that took place in the early to mid 2000’s.

    It really doesn’t matter who does the investigations. What matters is whomever does them has a system in place where quality and quantity are equal. You can’t fall behind in the investigations getting completed because that is bad for national security as well. But, quality of the investigations has to be high as well. USIS seemed to only be concerned with getting them done in order to be paid and raise profits while DSS was only concerned with getting every ounce out of a case no matter how long it took.

    Someone needs to come in and make quality and quantity of equal importance and the training department needs to work on everyone being trained properly no matter if you are a contractor, fed, civilian, or veteran.

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    Honestly, the problem is OPM. They can’t make up their mind on what they want. They contradict themselves. They change requirements mid-contract with no additional money (hello, old SPIN vs. new SPIN-10 times the work). They focus on non-adjudicative factors more than adjudicative factors. Protected sources, who often provide the very best derogatory information, can’t be used for adjudication. The investigations are subject to the Privacy Act, so sources are reluctant to share too much information. The process is a hot mess.

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    Thanks BW, I appreciate the thought. 🙂

    Also, couldn’t agree more with Mike!

    And Contractor, all the OPM changes are in response to their biggest customer wanting the changes. Guess who that is.

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    Funny..Vet’s preference. Heck all that does is get you into the interview. that’s it…no matter what anyone else says. If you are a Vet you are pretty sure to get an interview….now so much when it comes to actually getting hired. I’m a vet, and yes good at what I do, and have been interviewed and rejected about twice as much as my co workers. Have heard the same from some of my old Army buddies too. so vet schmet.

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    My apologies BW, I too have over 20 years of military service, but run into folks all the time that are disgruntled over vet preference. I see your point, it’s supposed to be given all things equal, vet preference takes precedence. If it is as you have seen it, I agree with your point.

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    Tennessee Contractor

    No offense taken–I saw your point. I’m just a bit saddened how the military has become almost a welfare state and many of the vets want special treatment. I am for giving a boost to our severely injured warriors. We all gave, but they lost the most and deserve this country’s help.