OPM absorbing background checks

The agency that conducts background investigations for the Defense Department will be transferred to the Office of Personnel Management in an effort to consolidate the clearance process.

The 1,800 to 2,000 Defense Security Service employees will become OPM employees. They will join about 150 federal workers at OPM who are devoted to background investigations as well as about 2,000 to 3,000 U.S. Investigations Services Inc. contractors who support the agency nationwide.

It's unclear what the federal employee-to-contractor ratio will be in the long term, according to an OPM official who spoke on background.

The transfer means that OPM will conduct about 80 percent of the government's background investigations. In fiscal 2002, OPM handled more than 2 million requests for some level of background investigation.

Some agencies, such as the FBI and the Treasury Department, are allowed to conduct their own background investigations, and OPM will continue to support those efforts.

The consolidation complements OPM's e-Clearance Initiative, said an OPM official who spoke on background. OPM is the lead agency on the e-Clearance program—one of the president's 24 e-government initiatives. The goal is to move from a paper-based system to an electronic clearance system so that information is shared and decisions to grant clearances can be done more quickly.

Eventually all requests for investigations will be handled via one mainframe-supported personnel investigative processing system, and the procedures—from requesting a clearance to filling out the application to granting the clearance—will be done automatically.

OPM plans to officially roll out e-Clearance on Feb. 7.

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