OPM cuts security-clearance processing time

The investigation period has been decreased from a year to just under 40 days

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has significantly reduced the time it takes to process security-clearance background investigations, cutting the average time to just 37 days from the one-year period it took in 2001, said OPM Director John Berry.

In testimony Sept. 15 before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee, Berry noted that his agency — which oversees much of the government’s clearance investigation work — is now exceeding federal timelines. The timelines require that decisions on at least 80 percent of initial clearances be made within an average of 120 days. Berry noted that OPM has eliminated a backlog of more than one-half million pending background investigations inherited from the Defense Department in 2005.

Four years ago, the average time needed to obtain a top secret security clearance was more than a year; today it is 72 days, Berry said. In 2009, OPM will complete more than 2 million investigations, he said.

“Our Investigative Service Division processes nearly 20 times as many cases as in 1997,” Berry said. “This is a remarkable increase in efficiency of service to the American public.”

Although progress has been made, Brenda S. Farrell, of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told senators that more could be done. For example, GAO estimated backup documentation was incomplete for most initial top-secret clearances adjudicated in July 2008. And, greater attention to quality could increase instances of reciprocity — one entity’s acceptance of another entity’s clearances, Farrell said.

About the Author

Federal Daily, an 1105 Government Information Group site, features news and resources for federal and postal employees.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 Mohammed Ali Iraq

Iraqi's who worked for US Army are still waiting for the process security-clearance background investigations facing the risk & threats by staying in Iraq!How long do you think we have to wait before we can get the SIV?

Wed, Mar 2, 2011

Can two different federal government agencies conduct security clearances simultaneously on an individual or one has to be completed to start the next one for possible employment?

Fri, Oct 16, 2009 Joseph 1207 Tonka Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80904

June 2008, I applied for an agricultural specialist job with the US CBP. I received a letter dated 1/8/2009 from an employee of the personnel security division saying that I was unsuitable for employment. I knew that this was coming because I have been fired from jobs and had a misdemeanor 3rd degree assault in 2002. I responded immediately and sent a letter to the employee of the personnel security division and have had no correspondence since then with anybody about my background investigation. I know that I will probably not obtain employment with CBP but I think that they could have at least told me that back in March or April.

Tue, Sep 29, 2009

Yes, the investigations are being completed much quicker now, but what about the quality of the product. Many times, especially on the NACIs or ANACIs, the majority of the vouchers (inquiries) are not returned. Because OPM is under such strict guidelines to close the cases within a certain period of time, these cases are closed complete and sent to the agency for adjudication. Why are we paying for an incomplete case that we have to follow-up on ourselves? We are not getting a quality product.

Thu, Sep 24, 2009

The article fails to discuss how this change in time requirements for a clearance was accomplished. It's easy to claim increased efficiency.. does anyone remember the A-76 process?

Show All Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group