The administration is preparing an executive order to authorize and implement the transfer of the government-wide security clearance program from the Office of Personnel Management and National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) to the Pentagon.
The transfer in one of the handful of recommendations the White House made to drastically shift focus at OPM. Margaret Weichert, the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management, said the transfer is one of the proposals the administration believed it could accomplish without the help from Congress.
OPM’s 2 Highest-Earning Activities
Moving the security clearance portfolio and HR Solutions would have significant implications for OPM, who relies on both a revolving fund and appropriations. Not only would OPM use 2 of its highest earning activities, but the transfer could also create financial instability for the agency.
It is possible that the Department of Defense may buy “common services”—including legal, IT, administrative and HR support functions—from OPM during the initial stages of the programs’ transfer. NBIB currently pays OPM a common service fee for those resources and OPM relies on those fees to help financially support itself as an organization.
HR Solutions brings about $206 million while NBIB generates around $1.4 billion.
DOD temporarily reimbursing OPM for common services may help the impact of the transfer. However, the transfers’ impact on the OPM and NBIB workforces is another consideration. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.)—who has roughly 1,500 federal employees and contractors who process security clearances for NBIB in Boyers, PA—was concerned if DOD would have the expertise needed to quickly and accurately work its way through an immense backlog of background investigations. He is also concerned how the transfer would impact his workforce.
Kelly met with OPM, GSA, and the Pentagon and those agencies have assured him current NBIB employees would keep their positions as DOD assumes responsibility for the clearance programs.
“I applaud the Trump administration for announcing…that it will be keeping the NBIB intact and shifting it entirely to the DOD,” Kelly said. “This action will keep all background investigations under the same agency and will retain economies of scale to efficiently perform these critical operations. I met with DOD officials responsible for the transfer. They assured me there are no plans to move any jobs outside of Butler County.”
New Reporting Requirements
The industry is strongly advocating for more changes to the current status quo, which includes a backlog of more than 700,000 matters and wait times that span between 200-400 days, according to the most recent update on Performance.gov.
The Government Accountability Office also placed the security program on the High-Risk List in January.
Congress included several new provisions in the 2019 defense authorization bill, including additional reporting requirements to main players in the security clearance and suitability space. For example, the Performance Accountability Council is to provide assessments on the number of pending cases, the number of denied periodic re-investigations and wait times, among other data points.
Another provision prompts the defense intelligence undersecretary to study potential research and development opportunities to enhance the DOD’s existing work on continuous evaluations and other “advanced analytics in connection with personnel security activities.”
Another reporting requirement instructs the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to look at a possible expedited security clearance process for mission-critical positions. The NDAA requires both the DNI and OPM Director, in their capacities as security and suitability executive agents, to establish a “trusted information provider program.” Under this program, agencies would share background information with each other and with industry groups about the individuals applying for and holding national security positions.
Many of these provisions evolved and changed to account for privacy concerns.
David Berteau, President, and CEO of Professional Services Council said any publicly made information of these topics is helpful. Yet the new provisions only require DOD to report to the defense and intelligence authorizing and appropriations committee; they don’t guarantee transparency with the industry, the people who live and work in these environments, he said.
He added the “inclusion of these provisions shows a level of focus and care from members of Congress and their staffs that hasn’t always been present in prior years.”
There is no exact timing of this order, but its likely expected in the next few months.