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OPM Launches New Background Check Service

The Office of Personnel Management launched a new background investigation service on Oct. 1 in an effort to address shortcomings and cyber vulnerabilities after the 2015 hack that exposed the personal information of 21.5 million people.

Charles Phalen Jr., a former CIA director of security, serves as director of the newly created National Background Investigations Bureau, according to Signal Magazine.

The bureau “is designed with an enhanced focus on national security, customer service, and continuous process improvement to meet this critical government-wide need now and in the future,” according to the OPM website.

The Defense Information Systems Agency will establish a National Background Investigative System for OPM that “guarantees the confidentiality and integrity of Americans’ sensitive, personally identifiable information,” said Christopher Catlin, NBIS program manager, in a recent presentation. The objective is to reduce OPM’s information technology operating costs and speed up the background investigation process.

Another goal is to prevent any single individual from having access to all information and system data and to enable authorized personnel to see only the minimum amount of data required to perform their investigative responsibilities.

This newly formed bureau inherited a background investigation backlog, and the new system that will address it will take as long as 18 months to get up and running, Signal Magazine reported.

Jim Onusko, the new bureau’s transition leader estimates the backlog at more than 500,000.

“Those of us who specialize in security clearance law are hopeful that this new bureau will help our clients who have applied for clearance get through the investigation process faster so they can get to work,” says attorney Catie Young. “Every day they don’t have their clearance is a day spent unable to work to their full potential. The investigation backlog often interferes with applicants’ ability to earn a living for themselves and their families.”

OPM’s goal is to complete background investigations for applicants seeking secret clearance within 40 days. Today it takes 105-120 days to do so. Its goal for completing top-secret clearance investigations is 80 days. It currently takes 170-214 days.

Another element of this new bureau includes a law enforcement division to improve access to criminal history records, Signal reported. It also will create a Federal Investigative Resource Enterprise to automate and digitize the investigation process for background checks with the goal of preventing tragedies such as the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013.

Additional improvements the bureau is tasked with include:

  • A unit dedicated to improving customer service.
  • Dedicated procurement and contracting staff to enable the bureau to run efficiently and effectively.
  • Creation of a Suitability Executive Agent unit that reports to the OPM director and offers guidance on suitability policies and processes.

The National Background Investigations Bureau will have 8,500 employees, including 3,000 federal government employees and 5,500 contractors, according to Federal News Radio. OPM hired 400 new federal investigators in 2016 and plans to add another 200 in 2017.
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