OPM credits IT for shorter security clearance process

Agency also seeks to improve reciprocity

The Office of Personnel Management credits its advanced use of IT, including modernizing its suite of automated tools, for reducing the time it takes to process federal personnel security clearances.

In fiscal 2010, OPM completed more than 620,000 initial security clearance investigations, and 90 percent of those clearances were completed in an average of 39 days, compared with 115 days in fiscal 2007, said Kathy Dillaman, associate director of OPM's Federal Investigative Services Division.


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The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires that the clearance process be completed within 60 days.

In testimony prepared for a subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Dillaman updated lawmakers on the progress OPM has made in the governmentwide effort to overhaul the security clearance process. Specific achievements include:

  • Expanding the use of OPM’s Central Verification System (CVS) to include information on security, suitability and credentialing decisions made by agencies across the government.
  • Relying more frequently on electronic forms for processing investigations.
  • Increasing the use of digital fingerprint capturing.
  • Converting from manual to automated record checks.
  • Upgrading OPM’s automated processing system to allow for secure Web-based interactions between investigation subjects, employing agencies and OPM.

Dillaman also said OPM will offer a new investigation product in fiscal 2011. The product, a validated suite of automated record checks, will be used as an annual assessment of individuals cleared at the top-secret level.

In addition, the agency has taken steps to promote reciprocity of clearance investigations among agencies by expanding the CVS data fields and standardizing the use of enhanced subject interviews to resolve issues, Dillaman said.

Also testifying before the panel on Dec. 1 was Brenda Farrell, director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office. Farrell said federal agencies were still reluctant to honor clearances granted by other agencies, which leads to duplicative background checks and lengthens the time it takes to grant a clearance.

However, Dillaman said OPM, which conducted more than 90 percent of the background investigations required by the federal government, is making progress in that area.

“OPM monitors compliance with reciprocity by measuring the number of investigation requests that were returned to an agency because an investigation already exists that would satisfy the agency’s request,” Dillaman said. “In fiscal year 2010, we saw a 50 percent reduction in the number of investigation requests returned to the agency from the number returned in fiscal year 2009.”

She said OPM is working with the Suitability and Security Clearance Performance Accountability Council to develop additional metrics to measure agencies' compliance with reciprocity of investigations and adjudicative decisions — a step that GAO’s Farrell also recommended.

Further, Dillaman said OPM is working to establish training standards across the government for suitability adjudication and background investigations to enhance reciprocity.

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

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