Military clearance office moves to OPM

The Office of Personnel Management has absorbed the Pentagon office that conducts clearances for civilian jobs in the military in a move officials hope will make the majority of background checks more efficient, officials announced today.

The deal, mandated by Congress in the Defense Authorization bill of 2004, will transfer more than 1,800 civilian personnel security investigators from the Pentagon's Defense Security Service to OPM. No jobs are expected to be lost in the consolidation, OPM officials said.

"We want to assure all the [Defense Department] employees that it will be as seamless as possible, that they will get their paychecks and travel reimbursements without any noticeable change," said Steve Benowitz, OPM's associate director in the Division for Human Resources, Products and Services.

The transfer will consolidate the vast majority of background investigations at OPM. Agency officials have been using six contracting companies to help clear out an increasing demand for clearances since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Under OPM's procedure, contractors bill the federal government for each clearance that is processed.

"We saw a 50 percent increase after [Sept. 11] in the number of full field investigations were asked to do," Benowitz said.

OPM officials conduct 1.5 million investigations a year. About 325,000 DOD investigations are in progress. Background investigators have been using OPM's computer system known as the Personnel Investigations Processing System for more than a year now. And DOD officials have estimated that they have avoided at least $100 million in costs to upgrade the agency's system by migrating to OPM's secure database.

Nevertheless, the goal is to finish each background check in 60 to 90 days, a target that still may be elusive. Many contractors doing business with the government have complained that some clearances have taken more than a year to complete and hamper getting the right workers on the job quickly.

The move takes effect in February.

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