UPDATED: ITAA: Background checks could overwhelm OPM

Industry group worries about commercial impact of mandatory background investigations of federal contractors.

ITAA letter to GSA Regulatory Secretariat

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Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 12:25 p.m. March 14, 2006, for clarification.

Requiring background checks and government-issued IDs for contractor employees working with the federal government will overwhelm the Office of Personnel Management, which already has a backlog of security clearance investigations, the Information Technology Association of America wrote in a letter to General Services Administration officials last week.

ITAA asked GSA to consider the commercial impact of an interim rule to make mandatory background investigations of federal contractors part of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

“This interim rule will add hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new investigations to a process that is only now getting increased attention and resources,” ITAA wrote. The association called for a rule revision that requires agencies to estimate the labor and cost demands on OPM’s investigative services if the rule is approved.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 mandates that agencies provide employees and contractors with secure identity badges beginning Oct. 27. The new policy also states that the smart identity cards that agencies issue temporarily until background checks are completed must be electronically distinguishable from those issued after completed background investigations.

ITAA does not disagree with HSPD-12 or Federal Information Processing Standard 201. However, officials think the directive will add an unprecedented amount of work for OPM.

In a report released March 3, congressional auditors expressed concern that agencies might fail to meet the Oct. 27 deadline for issuing interoperable smart card ID credentials to federal employees and contractors. The report also questions whether the government can accomplish the major objective of governmentwide interoperability.

Agency officials face significant challenges. For instance, they have to test and buy smart cards and card readers that meet the FIPS 201 technical standard for the new identity cards.

ITAA officials said advance notice would have helped.

“The president cannot request, and the Congress cannot provide, sufficient funding and personnel resources for the investigative services unless such information is captured and made available ahead of the budget development process,” ITAA officials wrote.

Agencies also must solve interoperability problems that will arise because of different specifications for implementing the FIPS 201 standard, according to the auditors' report.

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