Per the goals set by the Office of Personnel Management, the wait times to complete background OPM investigations are double, and even triple what they should be. The targets set for the fiscal year 2016 were under 40 days to complete initial and secret national security investigations. For top secret national security investigations, the completion goal was set for 80 days.
OPM’s Agency Financial Report shows investigations are taking double or triple the time because of contract changes and reduced funding. Acting Director Beth Cobert recognized the transition from the Federal Investigative Services (FIS) to the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) “will take some time, but the agency is hard at work building capacity”. OPM made 400 conditional offers of employment to federal field investigators in FY2016. Cobert says the goal for FY2017 is to increase staff levels by an additional 200 employees.
The most recent data shows the current backlog of OPM investigations is at 343,557 unprocessed secret level clearances, while 72,566 at top secret level. This data is as of the end of the third quarter of FY2016. Also, the backlog of periodic reinvestigations stood at 156,172.
In a letter from the Deputy Inspector General, the move from FIS to NBIB is described as “the most significant institutional reorganization since OPM absorbed DOD’s background investigations unit, Defense Security Service in 2005”. As a result, working with the Defense Department increases the complexity of background investigations and makes them more time consuming.
Two events have contributed to the backlog of cases:
- Termination of US Investigations Services, LLC fieldwork contract, which led to the exit of hundreds of contractors.
- Funding shortfalls have significantly impacted the FIS’s ability to grow the federal and contractor capacity. Therefore, there has been no overtime work to address the backlog issue.
To address the issues, OPM has awarded four new fieldwork contracts and plans to raise the cost of conducting background checks. “This challenge associated with reduced capacity has been exacerbated by the inaccurate workload projections provided by FIS’s customers in FY2016, agency workload projections were underestimated by 22 percent, further complicating FIS’s ability to accurately predict and address background investigative workloads. For FY2017, process efficiencies to reduce total man hours to complete ongoing work will also be put in place.”
OPM has management challenges that fall into two categories: internal and environmental. The internal challenges include,
- Retirement claims processing
- Information security governance
- Data security
- Security assessment and authorization
- Procurement process oversight
- Information Technology Infrastructure Improvement Project
- Stopping the flow of improper payments
- Procurement process for benefits programs
Along with background investigations, strategic human capital management and federal health insurance initiatives are environmental challenges.