OPM cites progress on security clearances

Oversight committee questions whether progress on speeding clearances is real

The Office of Personnel Management has begun trial efforts to transmit completed security clearance investigations back to the requesting agency electronically to speed the clearance process.

Under the new program, the Agriculture and Defense departments, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Security Administration will receive completed investigations through a secure Web site operated by OPM. Most agencies receive their completed investigations in the form of paper documents, which technicians then convert to a microfilm format.

Kathy Dillaman, associate director of OPM’s Federal Investigative Services Division, said OPM plans to offer the new service to every federal agency by the end of fiscal 2007.

“We will reconfigure how the completed investigations are packaged and tagged so they can be used by the receiving agency,” Dillaman said. OPM is the agency responsible for most security clearance investigations that are required for federal employment.

The new electronic transmission efforts are one of the ways OPM is trying to comply with the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act of 2004 that set benchmarks for improving the security clearance process. That process has become bogged down in delays and efficiencies, partly because the number of jobs requiring security clearances spiked after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The 2004 law sets a deadline of December 2009 for federal agencies to process all security clearances in 60 days — 40 days to complete the investigative portion and 20 days to finish the adjudication process. Adjudication resolves any disputes arising from the investigative process. In the past two years, agencies have been able to automate a number of steps in the clearance process, which has decreased the time it takes to clear applicants and moved agencies closer to meeting the statutory deadline.

A group, known as the Security Clearance Oversight Group, led by the Office and Management and Budget and OPM, submitted a report to Congress in early February in which it documented progress made in reducing the clearance backlog.

The oversight group’s report largely praised the efforts made so far. Lawmakers, however, were skeptical about how much real progress has been made.

The “federal government must ensure that it is instituting reform at each step of the process, including reciprocity of existing clearances among agencies,” said a spokeswoman for Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Commitee’s Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia Subcommittee.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said progress on the ground is somewhat different from the scenario OMB and OPM are reporting.

Davis’ “preliminary investigations suggest there is still a great deal of work to be done,” said Dave Marin, minority staff director for the House committee. “In talking to both client agencies and private-sector customers, he’s learned that they have a very different view of the progress that has been made thus far.”

Davis intends to maintain a close watch on the backlog, Marin said, adding that Davis is in favor of “plain-language metrics that let all stakeholders know exactly how well or how poorly we’re doing in this area.”
New hurdles for security clearance agenciesThe Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget lead the Security Clearance Oversight Group, created in December 2006 to speed the processing of security clearances for federal employees and contractors. The group set benchmarks for 2007, which 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.
  • Delivering information from record repositories 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.
Source: Security Clearance Oversight Group

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