OPM hits e-clearance milestones

The Office of Personnel Management is moving forward with its e-Clearance program, designed to streamline the government's clearance and background investigation process.

E-Clearance, one of the Bush administration's 24 e-government initiatives, is designed to automate and speed up the time it takes to process security clearances for federal employees and contractors. OPM, which manages e-Clearance, anticipates saving more than $258 million over the next 10 years in part by saving time and reducing paper. OPM expects to spend $54.3 million on e-Clearance during that same period.

OPM has made progress thus far, officials said. It has developed the shorter, electronic Standard Form 86C that will allow federal employees to update their most recent longer, paper-based SF 86 form. The new form will take federal employees five to 10 minutes to fill out vs. the traditional paper-based form, which takes them about 90 minutes.

"We ask for the information we need, not the information we already have," said Dan Blair, OPM's deputy director, at a briefing today.

SF 86C is available now online, but won't be completely automated — which means employees are able to fill it out and submit it online — until June. That is when OPM will launch its electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) project that will make available online other forms, including SF 86 and SF 85.

OPM has also loaded more than 80 percent of the government's civilian security clearance information into its database dubbed the Security/Suitability Investigations Index and has linked it to the Defense Department's Joint Personnel Adjudication System. This new Clearance Verification System for the first time will allow any agency via a single search to find investigative and clearance information on an employee, including contractors.

"It's the key to locating people's investigative history," said John Crandell, OPM's e-Clearance project manager.

The final piece of the e-Clearance program is imaging. Beginning at the end of May, agencies will start digitizing all new clearance and background records stored in 20 repositories so that they can request, retrieve and disseminate investigative files. Old files will remain in paper form until requested, Crandell said.

Meanwhile, to help agencies with the transition to e-Clearance, OPM has established a learning lab in Crystal City, Va., to train people on e-QIP and other investigative applications.

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