Bill to expedite security clearances clears committee

The SECRET Act, which would require more reporting transparency from the National Background Investigations Bureau, is ready for the House floor.

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 19 passed a bipartisan bill aimed at expediting the security clearance approval process.

The Securely Expediting Clearance through Reporting Transparency (SECRET) Act, introduced by Reps. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), would require the National Background Investigations Bureau to submit a quarterly report on the size of the security clearance backlog.

The report also would include the average time to conduct security clearance investigations, filtered by clearance level and whether the investigation is for prospective employees or an existing hire's periodic reinvestigation.

“Bureaucratic processes are hindering government agencies and employees from doing critical work on behalf of our national defense because of these investigation backlogs,” Knight said.

In October 2016, the Obama administration created NBIB to replace the Federal Investigative Services in response the Office of Personnel Management breach that exposed more than 20 million individuals’ personal information.  

The goal of NBIB, which is housed under OPM, is to both rebuild trust in the government’s ability to protect sensitive personal data and to better investigate and clear candidates.

NBIB has made the security clearance process more secure, but it’s still slow. NBIB told Congress in February it expects to hire 200 more investigators this year to cut down the processing time.

“In order to ensure that the new Bureau can successfully distinguish itself from OPM’s past failures, it must work to reduce the backlog of background investigations and the length of time it takes to complete each investigation,” Connolly said in a prepared statement. “This bill provides the transparency needed for Congress to hold NBIB accountable and ensure that important background investigations are being conducted in a timely manner.”

One major challenge facing NBIB is that it didn’t get a fresh start. The agency inherited a backlog of more than half-a-million people waiting to receive either an initial security clearance or a background check for government or contractor positions.

Additionally, as NBIB prepares to begin transitioning in 2018 to a new IT system for processing security clearance data that was built by the Defense Information Systems Agency, the White House has proposed cutting DISA’s funding by $25 million.

The bill’s next stop would be the House floor, although it is unclear when that consideration might take place.  

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