Initiatives to address issues with security clearances–necessary for many federal employees and contractor employees to fully perform their assigned duties–remain “incomplete,” with a growing backlog and degraded timeliness among the problems, GAO has said.
One of the major initiatives still incomplete is the 2012 is the Federal Investigative Standards, which among other things set criteria for conducting background investigations that included establishing a continuous evaluation program and to guide agencies in honoring previously granted clearances by other agencies. Also, while agencies have taken steps to establish government-wide performance measures for the quality of investigations, no milestones have been set for their completion and thus agencies have no schedule to track their progress–or which they can be held accountable, GAO said.
The backlog grew from 190,000 in August 2014 to more than 709,000 in September 2017, in large part because OPM experienced problems with the main contractor it had been using and did not extend its contract in 2014, and because of the impact of the database breach discovered in 2015. Also, while 59 percent of agencies met investigation and adjudication timeliness objectives for initial top secret clearances in fiscal 2012, only 10 percent did so in fiscal 2016.
While the National Background Investigations Bureau, a semi-independent entity within OPM created in 2016 in the wake of the breach, has hired additional federal investigators and increased the number of its investigative fieldwork contracts, it has not developed a plan for reducing the backlog or established goals for increasing total investigator capacity, said GAO. “Without such a plan and goals, the backlog may persist and executive branch agencies will continue to lack the cleared personnel needed to help execute their respective mission,” it said.
One response, it noted, is language in the recently enacted defense budget authorizing DoD to conduct its own investigations–reversing a decision of a decade ago to move that responsibility from DoD to OPM.