DoD Takes Over Troubled Background Check Agency and Its Backlog

National Background Investigation Bureau Special Agent Josephine Dow meets with Jim Mitchell, 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs operations chief, to finalize his personnel security investigation, Nov. 8, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Stacey Geiger)
National Background Investigation Bureau Special Agent Josephine Dow meets with Jim Mitchell, 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs operations chief, to finalize his personnel security investigation, Nov. 8, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Stacey Geiger)

The Defense Department on Tuesday completed its takeover of the troubled agency that conducts about 95% of the background checks on federal workforce personnel. It also inherited its backlog of 202,000 security clearances, defense officials announced.

The transfer of the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) and its nearly 3,000 employees from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and into DoD's Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency met a deadline for the switch on Oct. 1, the officials said.

In a background briefing, defense officials said that bringing NBIB into the Pentagon would enhance the overall security of the force and critical technology. NBI conducts background checks for more than 100 departments and agencies.

The officials described NBIB as "the single largest security-focused agency in the federal government."

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In a statement, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Joseph Kernan said that the transfer would advance the National Defense Strategy by bolstering security to allow the force to "maintain lethality by protecting critical defense information from theft or disclosure."

On background, the officials described the transfer as a simple bureaucratic procedure to improve efficiency, and did not respond directly when asked whether it came about because of problems in how OPM was managing the background checks and security clearances.

A defense official said the transfer was authorized by Congress in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act and approved by executive order in April. "I can't speak for Congress, why they did that," the official said.

NBIB was created in 2015 following a huge security breach at OPM that exposed the sensitive personal information of more than 21 million current and prospective federal employees and contractors.

NBIB itself then drew criticism for the backlog in security clearance investigations, which topped 700,000 in 2018.

The transfer involved about 3,000 NBIB personnel, who became Defense Department employees Oct. 1, the officials said.

The backlog of security checks has been cut and now stands at about 202,000, a second defense official said.

"We've got a lot more space to cover" in cutting the backlog further and assuring that the transfer is seamless, the official said.

Currently, individuals seeking top secret clearance can wait more than 100 days for approval, and the wait for secret clearances is about 75 days, the official said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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