Agencies pick up the pace on security clearances, OMB reports

Report of the Security Clearance Oversight Group

Agencies responsible for completing security clearances for employees and contractors made significant progress in reducing the time it takes to complete initial investigations and top-secret reinvestigations, the Bush administration reported last week.

During the first quarter of fiscal 2007, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said it took on average 101 days to process 80 percent of the 154,716 initial investigations it completed. That is down from 347 days in 2005 and 392 days in 2004.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reported these and other improvements to Congress in the Report of the Security Clearance Oversight Group, required under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA).

OMB leads the oversight group, which includes OPM, the FBI, the Defense Department and other major clearance-granting agencies. The group identifies areas of responsibility, establishes performance requirements and helps holds agencies accountable for improving the clearance process.

The IRTPA calls for the federal average to process 80 percent of initial security clearances to be 90 days or fewer and for adjudications to be no more than 30 days.

Additionally, OPM said it reduced the time it takes for all investigations — top secret and below — down to 166 days on average from a high of 205 days in 2004.

The intelligence community also made progress, the report said. It investigated and adjudicated 83 percent of all investigations in 103 days on average, while State, the Homeland Security and Justice departments improved their averages as well, OMB said.

OMB credited a number of reasons for these improvements.

First, OPM hired more employees and contractors over the past two years, increasing the total amount of people working on new investigations and the backlog of investigations to 9,367 from 7,819 between March 2005 and February 2007.

Second, OPM and FBI signed an agreement to decrease the number of FBI name checks that were pending for more than 30 days.

Third, more agencies are taking advantage of the Electronic Questionnaire for Investigations Processing (eQIP) system. OMB reported that the Commerce and Transportation departments submitted all their security clearance information through the OPM-led e-government project as of Jan. 2007. Across government OMB said agencies submitted about 64 percent of all clearance information through the system. OMB instructed agencies to use eQIP to submit all clearance documents by Sept. 30, 2007.

The report also outlined a series of goals OPM and others must meet in 2007. These include:

    * Completing 85 percent of all clearance investigations within 90 days.
    * Completing 80 percent of all reinvestigations within 180 days.
    * Completing 80 percent of all adjudications within 25 days.
    * Offering priority processing — less than 40 days — for at least 10 percent of all initial investigations and reinvestigations.
    * Record repositories will deliver information for 90 percent of all requests in no more than 30 days.
    * Measuring the timeliness of the end-to-end clearance process for industry and implementing any process improvements.

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