OMB: Security clearance backlog will be under control this year

Agencies will mostly tame their security clearance backlogs by late this year, said Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management.

In a phone interview this morning, Johnson said he expects that most agencies will be able to significantly reduce the amount of older backlogged applications by September.

He used the Defense Department as an example. DOD processes about 55,000 applications a month, but has also accumulated a backlog of 76,000 applications older than 45 days. Those older applications would make up about a tenth of the total backlog by September, Johnson said.

Many of the details were included in an OMB report released this morning by the Security Clearance Oversight Group, which found agencies are getting faster with clearances.

The report found that many agencies had exceeded goals for completing clearances, reducing the time it takes to process them to 118 days by the first quarter of fiscal 2008. OMB’s target was 130 days in the same time frame.

The next major goal is to get 90 percent of security clearances finished in an average of 74 days by December 2009. Johnson said that the goal would be impossible without more work, research and development to achieve that milestone.

“We’ve been doing a better job with managing the process, [but] we’ve got to make significant reforms to the process to achieve the timeliness goals that we want to achieve two years from now,” he said.

Those reforms include shifting the entire application process online, which Johnson said would require significant costs in terms of hardware, installation and training.

“That would take longer to develop and to implement significantly across the government, and that wouldn’t impact the December 2009 deadline,” Johnson said.

Currently, applications can be submitted through the Office of Personnel Management’s Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing Web application. The agency is also moving forward with a test of an online adjudication process, which the Army and Transportation Department are using.

Kathy Dillaman, associate director at OPM’s Federal Investigative Services Division, testified before the House Armed Service Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee on Feb. 13 that at least 10 other agencies expressed interest in joining that pilot test.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) applauded OMB’s assessment and said he supports the R&D efforts. However, he criticized the focus on improving investigations, saying that applications backlogs could be shifted further down to the adjudication phase of the process.

“That may make initial process numbers look better, but the applicant still waiting for a clearance won’t notice any difference, and it doesn't make the system any more responsive to agency or industry needs for cleared personnel,” Davis said in a statement released this morning.

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