It’s one step forward and two steps back in the race to improve security clearance processing times, according to information presented at a recent meeting of the National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Council.

The time it takes to process secret clearance applications has decreased by 45 days in the fourth quarter of 2017, but top-secret clearance application processing increased by 60 days, according to

Although the security clearance backlog had reached heights of more than 700,000 over the summer National Background Investigations Bureau Director Charles Phalen announced during the meeting that the backlog had declined for 14 weeks.

That positive trend may not continue. NBIB has been up and running for a year, and many experts agree that it hasn’t been long enough time to work through this backlog issue, Federal News Radio reported.

Even so, changes are brewing that could prevent the NBIB from having a chance to fully prove itself. About 87 percent of the backlogged investigations are for Department of Defense personnel. That equates to about $1.3 billion and 5 million man hours. The Defense Department once handled its own investigations, but lawmakers turned that responsibility over to the Office of Personnel Management in 2004 after they discovered the Defense Department’s delays in processing the applications.

Now the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act will return “ownership over the security clearance process for its own personnel” to the Defense Department if it becomes law, Federal News Radio reported. As a result, OPM could lose up to 75 percent of its staff to the Defense Department, and the Defense Department would have to start its own security clearance process from scratch instead of just leaving it with NBIB.

No matter which office oversees them, these processes take some time to get off the ground. One aspect of the Defense Department’s three-year plan to get the security clearance process back on track that has some leaders concerned is its bet on the continuous evaluation process and the use of biometrics to routinely monitor clearance holders. The problem is that many of these technologies are premature and may not pan out to be as effective as hoped, according to Federal News Radio. If that’s the case, it would lead to more work for reinvestigations than currently is estimated.

One thing that everyone appears to agree on is that the clearance process and backlog are important issues to be addressed. We will continue monitoring this situation and report on updates as we learn of them.