National Background Investigations Bureau Director Charles Phalen said today the background investigations backlog stands at 630,000, down 13 percent since the spring.
Phalen presented updated numbers -- current as of Monday Nov. 12 -- during today’s National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Council meeting in Washington. He had promised the group the backlog would be down 15 percent by Thanksgiving, a number he hopes to still reach.
The number of initial, secret-level investigations in the backlog totals 190,000 cases, 35,000 of which are industry personnel, according to Phalen. The backlog of initial, top-secret investigations is 90,000, with 25,000 of those being industry personnel.
And out of those 280,000 personnel waiting on their initial investigations to process, about 114,000 are working under interim clearances, Phalen said.
“That's not as bad a number as some have put out there,” he said. “It's certainly not where we want it to be, but it's not in such bad shape here.”
The remaining cases in the backlog are reinvestigations, meaning those personnel can continue to maintain their clearances in most instances.
However, the time it takes to conduct investigations remains a challenge, Phalen noted. His presentation shows the fastest 90 percent of initial, secret investigations in September took an average of 157 days. The goal is 40 days.
Initial, top-secret investigations continue to lag, as the fastest 90 percent of such cases in September took an average of 405 days. The goal is 80 days.
But timeliness numbers have improved this year along with the backlog. In March, the fastest 90 percent of initial, secret investigations were taking an average of 224 days, while initial, top-secret cases were taking on average 474 days.
Phalen said NBIB investigators are spending 35 percent less time doing fieldwork due to increased investigative capacity. The bureau is up to 8,800 field investigators.
“That population has gained experience over the last six months,” he said.
While a top intelligence official recently said the background investigations backlog could be down to 300,000 by next spring, Phalen poured cold water on the projection.
“I would say probably closer to 500,000, but I'm pretty conservative,” he said.
Meanwhile, President Trump is expected to “imminently” sign an executive order directing the transition of NBIB -- which sits under the Office of Personnel Management -- into the Defense Department’s Defense Security Service. The move has been expected since the White House initially proposed it as part of a government reorganization plan released this summer.