Pentagon to Handle Security Clearances Under Upcoming Order

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

The Department of Defense will conduct security clearances for all federal agencies under an executive order that’s expected in early October, the director of the government’s central HR office told Bloomberg Law Aug. 7.

The move is meant to address a backlog: 700,000 people are awaiting clearance investigations, Jeff Pon, director of the Office of Personnel Management, said.

“The intent is that 100 percent of security clearance processing” for the federal government will be done by the DOD, he said.

At present, the clearance process is handled by the National Background Investigations Bureau, an independent agency within the OPM. The plan calls for the bureau to be fully moved to the DOD by October 2020, Pon said.

Federal Workers Fear More Breaches

Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, expressed concerns about the change.

The issue of background check security is important to federal workers still smarting over data breaches that came to light in 2015. The problem affected millions of federal employees and their families. But moving responsibility for all background checks to the Defense Department isn’t the answer, Lenkart said.

“DOD needs to focus on DOD,” he said. “They don’t need those burdens.”

Instead, Lenkart said the Defense Department should provide the OPM with guidance if necessary to improve the process. “Leave OPM in charge of background checks for the rest of the government,” he said.

Pentagon Biggest ‘Customer’

The change makes sense because the DOD is the biggest “customer” for these kinds of services, Pon said. About 70 percent of the government’s clearance investigations involve current and future DOD employees, he said.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office in January added the federal security process to its “high risk” list of areas where the GAO says the federal government needs either “broad-based transformation or specific reforms to prevent waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.” The process has been on and off the GAO list since first being added in 2005.

Moving responsibility for background checks to the DOD is among the changes for the OPM that were included in a larger government reorganization plan. The plan is intended to make the government more responsive to U.S. citizens, the administration said when it unveiled the plan in June.

Move to White House on Back Burner

The government’s reorganization plan also includes a proposal to move the OPM’s policy duties to the Executive Office of the President.

That isn’t a priority, Pon said.

Moving responsibility for decisions such as reshaping the federal workforce to the White House would be controversial and isn’t high on the OPM’s to-do list, he said.

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