Trump signs executive order transferring background investigations to DOD

By Justin Doubleday / April 25, 2019 at 8:17 AM

President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order transferring responsibility to the Defense Department for conducting background investigations, a long-awaited move that also renames the Defense Security Service the “Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency.”

The Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act already authorized DOD to conduct background investigations on its own personnel and contractors. The EO signed this week shifts the entire federal background investigations mission from the Office of Personnel Management to the Pentagon.

Trump’s directive states keeping the entire mission under one agency will “[retain] the benefit of economies of scale in addressing the Federal Government's background investigations workload, [avoid] unnecessary risk, promot[e] the ongoing alignment of efforts with respect to vetting federal employees and contractors, and facilitat[e] needed reforms in this critical area.”

The transfer will involve shifting personnel from OPM’s National Background Investigations Bureau to the newly branded DCSA, according to the executive order.

By June 24, Trump directs the Pentagon and OPM to execute a plan “setting forth expectations for the transition period, including for detailing personnel, funding background investigations, using and safeguarding information technology, managing facilities and property, contracting, administrative support, records access, and addressing any claims."

Also by June 24, DCSA should serve as the “primary entity” for conducting background investigations for the federal government, the order directs. NBIB will be allowed to conduct background investigations on behalf of DOD up until Sept. 30, after which full responsibility officially rests on DCSA, according to the EO.

The Pentagon had already been planning to take on some NBIB personnel as a result of the FY-18 NDAA, and officials began planning for the full transfer after the Trump administration proposed the shift as part of a government reorganization plan released in June.

The plan to rebrand DSS was first discussed during a government and industry meeting in November. The Pentagon is currently seeking candidates to serve as the next director of the revamped agency.

Earlier this year, DOD initiated the shift of its Consolidated Adjudications Facility and the National Background Investigative Service’s program executive office to DSS to ready for the mission’s transfer.

Even as officials mulled the transfer, NBIB has been working to reduce a backlog of background investigation cases that peaked at 725,000 last spring. As of March, the backlog was down to

542,000 cases, but the Government Accountability Office has warned the backlog could increase again as the transfer to the Defense Department occurs.

The Pentagon wants to streamline and modernize the process by using “continuous evaluation to monitor potential red flags like adverse credit reports and criminal activity. The process would use automated record checks and other technologies to replace much of the fieldwork currently done by human investigators and negate the need for periodic reinvestigations of cleared individuals.

Meanwhile, OPM and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently unveiled a new “personnel vetting framework” to revamp how security clearances and background investigations will work across government.