Insider Threat

Administration appoints first head of NBIB

Charles Phalen 

Northrup Grumman executive Charles Phalen will be the first head of the National Background Investigations Bureau. 

The Obama administration has tapped Northrup Grumman Vice President of Corporate Security Charles Phalen, Jr., to run the new National Background Investigations Bureau.

Phalen will take the helm of NBIB on Oct. 1 as the new entity absorbs the Federal Investigative Services and assumes responsibility for processing federal background checks. NBIB, a semi-autonomous agency housed in the Office of Personnel and Management, will handle the bulk of background investigations processing for the federal government.

The NBIB was conceived in the wake of the OPM breach that resulted in the theft of more than 20 million individuals' personal information.

NBIB will partner with the Department of Defense, which will build and manage a new IT platform for the background checks. DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen said on Sept. 29 that the continuing resolution passed by Congress includes $95 million in funding for the Defense Information Systems Agency to build the IT system, as well as the authorization to begin that work. Halvorsen said it will take 12 to 18 months to complete, and in the meantime DOD will work with OPM on the security of the existing system.

David De Vries, who was the Defense Department's principal deputy CIO under Halvorsen, was named CIO for OPM in August.

The NBIB inherits a backlog of more than 500,000 individuals awaiting either the initial processing of their security clearance or a reinvestigation. Currently, it is taking an average of 120 days to process a Secret clearance, and 170 to process Top Secret. The goals are 40 days and 80 days respectively.

"I am fully aware of the backlog in background investigations," Phalen said during a conference call with reporters. "We will be working immediately to improve the timeliness and that will be a top priority for me and the entire NBIB team."

During the announcement of Phalen's appointment, federal officials outlined a number of initiatives designed to give NBIB greater capacity to process security checks.

Four hundred new field officers have been hired in the last year and more are on the way. Field operations, which will continue to be done largely by contractors, are to be reformed with more federal oversight.

There will a new law enforcement liaison office and efforts to work with state and local law enforcement to automate criminal record collection and sharing.

A new Federal Investigative Records Enterprise office will focus on "automation and management of government-wide investigative records collection and retention," said Phalen.

NBIB will include a Business Transformation Unit to focus on procedural changes to speed up and reduce the cost of investigations. And NBIB will also include a Customer Engagement unit.

On the personnel side there will be new rotating details and joint details with members of the intelligence community.

Phalen, though coming from industry, has 30 years of government experience. His previous positions include director of security for the Central Intelligence Agency, assistant director for Federal Bureau of Investigation's Security Division and chief of the Protective Programs Group in the CIA's Office of Security.

"Charlie's experience both in the government and private sector is second to none," said Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "I do not believe there is anyone else in the United States government or the country writ large who has the bona fides and capability to lead the new NBIB into the future."

As FCW has reported, some members of Congress have expressed reservations that NBIB is simply a repackaging of FIS and its deficiencies. Members have also questioned the logic of having the DOD build and run the IT system. However, Congress did green-light the funding for the DOD to move forward.

Industry experts, meanwile, have warned that it is unrealistic to expect NBIB to completely clear the backlog. 

"October first is the beginning in many ways," said Beth Cobert, acting director of OPM.

"We have a model," she said. "We have a roadmap. We have plans in place, but we will continue to adapt those over time as we have new systems that give us new capabilities."

About the Author

Sean Carberry is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence. Prior to joining FCW, he was Kabul Correspondent for NPR, and also served as an international producer for NPR covering the war in Libya and the Arab Spring. He has reported from more than two-dozen countries including Iraq, Yemen, DRC, and South Sudan. In addition to numerous public radio programs, he has reported for Reuters, PBS NewsHour, The Diplomat, and The Atlantic.

Carberry earned a Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, and has a B.A. in Urban Studies from Lehigh University.

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