This is how background checks are starting to hurt US national security

The Defense Department is pledging to improve the way background investigations are done, according to Garry Reid, DoD’s director for defense intelligence and security.

There is currently an enormous backlog in the investigations, Reid said. Some personnel have been waiting up to nearly two years for a top secret security clearance, he said, explaining the goal for completing a top secret investigation is 80 days.

National Security Agency Headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Image Wikicommons)

There are a lot of secrets in that building. (National Security Agency Headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.)

The delays are impacting readiness, he explained to DoD News.

“Units are deploying without a full complement of cleared intelligence analysts and technical experts,” Reid said.

Read: How hurricane relief is stalling US troops’ Afghanistan deployment

“Service members competing for positions that require top level clearances are held in check,” he said. “Our research and development programs are not operating at capacity due to shortage of cleared defense industry contractors.”

The long delays in processing clearances result in loss of talented people, particularly those just entering the workforce who have highly desired technical skills but cannot afford to wait a year or more before starting the job, he said.

“We are prepared to take this matter in hand and aggressively develop better approaches that can deliver quality investigations, at sustainable cost, within acceptable timelines,” he said.

Changes in Procedures

The fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Section 951, Enhanced Security Programs for Department of Defense Personnel and Innovation Initiative, directed the defense secretary, to provide the following to the DoD committees:

— An implementation plan, by Aug. 1, 2017, for the Defense Security Service, or DSS, to conduct, after Oct. 1, 2017, background investigations for DoD personnel, whose investigations are adjudicated by the DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility.

— A report, by Aug. 1, 2017, on the number of full-time equivalent employees of the DoD management headquarters that would be required by DSS to carry out the transfer plan.

— A plan, by Oct. 1, 2017, along with the Office of Personnel Management, to transfer government investigative personnel and contracted resources to the DoD from OPM, in proportion to the background and security investigative workload that would be assumed by DoD if the implementation plan were executed.

The Defense Department requires security clearances for service members and civilians, allowing them to be mission ready for deployment around the globe for DoD missions. Here, Navy Seaman Aaron Mason signals to an SA 330 Puma helicopter, assigned to the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Wally Schirra, during flight operations aboard the forward-deployed guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem, Oct. 17, 2017, on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy Graham

The Defense Department requires security clearances for service members and civilians, allowing them to be mission ready for deployment around the globe for DoD missions. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy Graham)

Backlog Impacts Readiness

DoD does not plan to assume the cases the OPM is already investigating, according to Reid. The pending cases are in various stages of completion and the department has already paid OPM’s National Background Investigation System to conduct those investigations.

“The enormity of the backlog is staggering,” Reid told members of Congress last month.

The backlog hurts readiness, erodes warfighting capacity, debilitates development of new capabilities, and wastes taxpayer dollars, he explained to the House Oversight and Government’s Subcommittee on Government Operations.

He said 93,000 DoD cases were waiting in a queue for a top secret investigation, and the prices for the investigations continue to rise at a “staggering rate.”

“In 2015, after promising to provide credit monitoring to 22 million government employees and federal contractors whose personal data was compromised, OPM retroactively passed on these costs on to its customers — resulting in an additional $132 million bill for DoD,” he said.

Read More: Army reports lack of training as biggest setback to readiness

DoD to Reset Process and Procedures

Reid said the situation is “unacceptable and must be remedied through immediate mitigation measures and a long-term reformation of the personnel vetting system.”

He said that is why Congress directed DoD in 2017 to develop plans for assuming control of the background investigations.

In August, the defense secretary approved the plan and notified Congress, the director of national intelligence, the director of OPM, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget of his intent to execute the plan over a three-year period, according to Reid.

“The DoD plan goes far beyond a transfer of personnel and resources associated with the legacy process at OPM; this will be a full resetting of process and procedures in desperate need of modernization and system reform,” he said.

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