Are Robots Going to Replace Human Being in Background Checks?

Robots may become part of the security clearance background check process, says security clearance attorney John Griffith.

People are more likely to be truthful when answering a robot than another human being.

That is what one study found recently, and it is among the reasons the federal government is considering deploying robots to conduct security clearance interviews.

National Center for Credibility Assessment psychologists are developing an interview system that uses a responsive onscreen avatar for the initial stage of the national security clearance process, according to the blog Motherboard.

The NCCA study used a computer-generated agent to gather information from security clearance applicants about mental health, drug and alcohol use, and criminal histories. Researchers found that the number of relevant admissions during the interview with the computer-generated agent exceeded the number of admissions made using a self-report questionnaire.

In addition to getting more truthful answers, using the robot completed the process quicker and at a reduced cost.

“This is an interesting technology,” says John Griffith, an attorney who specializes in security clearance law. “Given the backlog of applications that has been reported recently, this could be one way of speeding the process a bit.”

In January, the Defense Security Service reported it had a backlog of more than 8,000 electronic questionnaires for investigations processing (called e-QIPs) awaiting review and submission to the Office of Personnel Management.

In August, the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Homeland Security suspended background investigations contractor USIS from conducting security checks, according to a Federal Soup article. This was after someone hacked into the company’s systems, which had the potential to compromise the personal information of thousands of federal employees.

“When you suspend a company that is responsible for conducting investigations, that certainly doesn’t alleviate the backlog problem,” Griffith says.

The backlog may not get better with time, unless robots or some other streamlining measures are put into place. In addition to new applicants for security clearance, the government wants to keep closer tabs on those who already have clearance, in light of the Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis incidents.

President Barack Obama’s administration released recommendations earlier this year for changing the security clearance process for government employees and contractors after the Office of Management and Budget conducted a comprehensive review of the system, according to a Defense One article. The administration wants improvements made to background investigations, as well as ongoing evaluations of the more than 5 million people who hold confidential, secret or top-secret security clearances.

Computer-generated agents may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to speeding the background check process.