OPM gets early cooperation on clearance system initiative

The Office of Personnel Management team working on the E-Clearance project has been pleasantly surprised at the high-tech cooperation it is getting—so much so that OPM expects the e-government initiative to meet its next milestone early.

Office of Management and Budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. recently sent a memo to agencies requiring them to automate their systems to handle records on security clearances for workers and transfer the files to OPM’s Security/Suitability Investigations Index (SII) by Jan. 3.

The memo is the latest in a recent series of letters invoking OMB’s authorities under the Clinger-Cohen Act to prompt agencies to work together on the 24 Quicksilver e-government initiatives. OMB also ordered agencies to work together on the online rulemaking, public-safey wireless system and E-Payroll projects. E-Clearance is one of five initiatives OPM is managing.

“After Sept. 11, agency priorities were readjusted, and the memo was a reminder that this project needed to get done,” said John Crandell, the E-Clearance project manager and chief of oversight and technical assistance in OPM’s Investigations Service. “It was a question of getting agencies to focus on the issue for their benefit and make it happen by a certain date instead of as time allows.”

Find redundant funding

OMB also will ask agencies to submit information on the funding of personnel clearance systems to identify redundant investments.

E-Clearance likely will be one of the first Quicksilver projects to reach its second milestone. In addition to receiving agency data, OPM is working with the Defense Department to connect SII to DOD’s Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS). OPM’s milestone for this link is Dec. 31, but Crandell said he expects it to be done sooner.

Three agencies, including a cabinet-level department, have transferred their personnel clearance data to SII, Crandell said.

The rest of the government is expected to link its data to SII by the January deadline. Crandell said he expects no problems in completing this task.

“Much to my surprise, a lot of agency databases are automated,” he said. “It is just a matter of extracting the data, writing it to a flat file and loading it into SII.”

Once the data is loaded, Crandell said, some agencies will use only SII, and others will maintain their own databases for security purposes such as smart-card validation.

Crandell said the central database would shorten the clearance process from as much as eight months to as little as two. Connecting SII and DOD’s JPAS also will shorten the time it takes to complete a clearance, he said.

In February, Defense rolled out JPAS after seven years of work at a cost of nearly $20 million to replace multiple stovepipe systems, said Pete Nelson, DOD deputy director for personnel security. It has 5 million to 6 million clearances of government workers and soon will add contractor employees.

OPM and DOD are working to connect the disparate systems so users can easily search both databases from one terminal. SII resides on an IBM Corp. mainframe running an Oracle Corp. database, and JPAS is a Web system running on Sun Microsystems servers and using a database from Sybase Inc.

“We will have 20,000 users in DOD, and we want it to be transparent and not have to do any additional keystroking to search both databases,” Nelson said.

Crandell said testing should begin by the end of the summer.

OPM and DOD also are working out how the systems will link, Nelson said.

“OPM historically has not permitted such direct access,” Nelson said. “This may be the first external linkage to OPM’s system, and we want to make sure security is built into the system so there are no breakdowns.”

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