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.

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