Defense Security Is Overhauling the Entire Security Clearance Process

The Defense Security Service is preparing to take over all background investigations for civilian and defense agencies and doesn’t want to inherit stale and potentially broken processes, officials told Nextgov.

The Defense Department office is currently reviewing white papers obtained through an other transaction authority solicitation seeking innovative methods for conducting background checks of current and potential federal employees who need security clearances.

The project is not about the technology behind background investigations process but rather how to innovate the process itself—from when the SF-86 form is filled out to when the clearance decision is made by the agency—according to Tara Petersen, head of DSS Office of Acquisitions, and her deputy, Stephen Heath.

“We’re really looking broader at the process itself,” Petersen said. “We’re looking to prototype a process.”

“Don’t think of the prototype like a widget,” Heath said. “It’s looking at that whole process: Where can we improve on that, where can we potentially save costs, where can we save time and where can we bring technology advancements into the process that are already out there in the commercial marketplace?”

After the 2015 data breach of Office of Personnel Management that exposed the personal information on more than 20 million current and former federal employees, background investigation duties were transferred to a new agency, the National Background Investigation Bureau with technical support delegated to the Defense Department.

But the security clearance backlog grew to more than 700,000 and the Government Accountability Office added the investigations process to its High-Risk List this year. Congress also passed legislation last year requiring DSS to take over all defense clearances work currently done by NBIB. Now, the administration wants to shift responsibility for all government background checks—defense and civilian—over to the Defense Department. While the lawmakers work that out, DSS is getting ready.

Read More