Army speeds up clearances

The Army facility responsible for adjudicating security clearances is on track to process about 125,000 cases by the end of this year — more than double its output from two years ago.

Eliminating paper work folders and automating a laborious workflow process has helped the Army Central Personnel Security Clearance Facility (CCF), in Fort Meade, Md., speed up the clearance process. The office grants, denies or revokes security clearances for Army personnel and contractors, and grants Limited Access Authorization for foreign nationals.

The Defense Security Service (DSS) sends background investigations to the CCF, which then reviews them and renders a decision, said Robert Knight, information management officer at CCF.

In the past, paper work folders, which included DSS investigations and notes, were given to CCF personnel and adjudication was done within two or three days, Knight said. But since the Army began using Integic Corp.'s e.POWER solutions, a case now can be completed within 24 hours, he said.

The system enables the two offices to securely pass the folders electronically and automatically incorporate an individual's personal profile data from the Defense Clearance and Investigations Index (DCCI).

"It takes the human out of the loop as to having to place cases in certain places in the workflow," Knight said. "Before, a human had to look at the papers and determine what type of case it was and pass it on. Now, it automatically goes to the right spot.

"Where we've seen the most benefit of the workflow product is clean secret clearance processing," which includes the electronic DSS investigation, a query of the DCCI and an administrative worksheet with additional notes, Knight said. "With those three pieces and no derogatory information, we can adjudicate that type of application in less than a day."

Steve Hofinger, business unit leader in Integic's e-government practice, said the company's relationship with CCF began in August 2000 and production of the workflow solution began last July.

"We tie seamlessly in with the case management system and all the historical case data," Hofinger said. A button on the desktop enables users to go into the legacy system at the exact record they need. "We introduced new technology and it served as a gateway to the old technology."

In its first year of use, e.Power helped the Army more than double the number of cases adjudicated from about 50,000 in 2000 to about 115,000 in 2001 and to an estimated 125,000 this year, Knight said.

"They brought us in when they were faced with a ramp-up in clearances they needed to adjudicate," Hofinger said, adding that the Army's options at that point were either to put more enlisted personnel on the problem and pay them overtime, or automate the process. He added that the tool is easy to deploy and has received "tremendous buy-in from the actual users of the system."

"Instead of adjudication work, people were doing administrative work," Hofinger said. "We enable them to initiate cases at the desktop rather than passing paper folders around, which is a real problem because the paper is coming in from a lot of different organizations," and folders were often difficult to locate, he said.

The Integic solution, which cost the Army about $300,000, has basically paid for itself already, Knight said. DSS estimates about $250,000 a year in savings on paper, printing and toner cartridges alone, and that doesn't take into account the time and resource savings from transferring and processing folders electronically, he said.

Knight said that although special background investigations still take 10 days and remain very labor intensive, e.Power still helps get the files to the CCF faster, regardless of whether they are 50 pages or 100 pages.

Jack Spencer, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank, said the time and cost savings associated with this system are examples of how the primary obstacles to progress are often rooted in the organization's culture, not in the technology.

"The technology is there; the culture is not," Spencer said, adding that proven solutions like this should yield a valuable lesson not only for the Army, but for the entire federal government. "The technology is often quite inexpensive, with the cost offset by what you get with increased efficiency."

In the future, CCF personnel would like to identify specific documents within a folder, highlight them and distribute them to security managers via e-mail, Knight said. That capability would further streamline the process, and the technology is available as soon as some additional funding is found, he said.

Hofinger said Chantilly, Va.-based Integic is hoping to expand the use of e.Power to include other information providers, such as the Army's criminal records division, which would enable complete electronic records to be sent to the records management office. He added that the company is demonstrating its tool to the other seven Defense Department adjudication facilities, including the Navy's, which is the largest and whose officials are "very interested."

***

Reaping the benefits

The Army Central Personnel Security Clearance Facility, which approves, denies or revokes security clearances for Army personnel and contractors, is using a new system to streamline the security clearance process.

The system takes the legwork out of the process by:

* Automatically including, in an electronic folder, the investigation notes from the Defense Security Service and an individual's personal profile data from the Defense Clearance and Investigations Index.

* Automatically routing the case to the proper officials, based on the level of security the applicant is seeking, as well as the information contained in the report.

* Ensuring integration and compatibility with legacy systems.

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