DOD on track to take on background checks ahead of White House order

The Pentagon is readying to absorb the National Background Investigations Bureau ahead of an anticipated executive order.

secure file (Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock.com)
 

The Defense Department is on track to absorb the National Background Investigations Bureau ahead of an anticipated executive order demanding the shift by the end of fiscal 2019, officials told Congress.

The Department of Defense is "going into this clear eyed," Garry Reid, the director for defense intelligence for the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Office, told Congress during a House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing Dec. 12, but it also understands "this is a significant undertaking."

NBIB is slated to transfer functions, resources, infrastructure and personnel to DOD over nine months, starting Jan. 1 and ending Sept. 30, 2019.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said he was "skeptical of DOD's ability to absorb" the NBIB, but officials ticked off recent successes as evidence that they were ready for the transition once an executive order hits.

Dan Payne, director of the Defense Security Service, testified that his agency was waiting for executive guidance to integrate NBIB's structure into its own, minimizing disruption to the workforce amid job status concerns, and maintaining progress already made.

"We are expecting the executive order will allow NBIB to integrate structure into DSS in a way that will not reverse or impact the great progress that NBIB has made in drawing down the investigative inventory, while allowing DSS to continue the progress we have made in innovation and transporting the vetting process," Payne said.

DSS and NBIB are developing a joint transfer plan and joint transition team, Payne said. The goal is to focus on high-risk cases within the cleared workforce and reduce the backlog.

In prepping for the transfer, NBIB and defense officials said there has been some reduction in the security clearance backlog even ahead of official directive.

Reid said that there's been an approximate 20 percent reduction of overall DOD inventory at NBIB. DOD's investigations make up about 80 percent of the bureaus investigative load.

The bureau's director Charles Phalen testified that NBIB's highest inventory level hit 725,000 investigative products in April but that number would fall below 600,000 in the next 24 hours, marking a 17 percent reduction in six months. Phalen also clarified that the number of government and industry employees waiting for a security clearance was 275,000, of which 110,000 are already at work under a clearance.

"Though these numbers are not optimal, they are not as high as the 600,000 number," Phalen said.

Additionally, NBIB has increased federal and contractor workforce in the past two years and begun implementing robotic processing automation via about 20 bots to streamline and automate manual activities and expedite case closure, Phalen said.

Separately, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a vocal critic of the security clearance backlog, recently introduced a bill that would enshrine the NBIB move to the Department of Defense into law.

"In light of new and emerging threats, this bill reflects the changes we need to make to this 70-year-old system to adjust to the increasing availability of data, new technologies, and a more mobile workforce so that we can maintain the pipeline of trusted professionals that the nation requires," Warner said in a statement.

Note: This post was updated Dec. 14 to clarify language about the National Background Investigations Bureau and Defense Security Service workforce shift. 

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