Federal agencies have agreed to a new framework they say will drive the government toward faster and more efficient personnel vetting processes, including continuous evaluation of cleared workers and security clearance reciprocity.
The new framework is “designed to guide the fundamental transformation of the federal government’s personnel vetting process,” according to a statement released today by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management. The two entities manage federal policy on personnel vetting, as the director of national intelligence is the government's “security executive agent,” while the director of OPM serves as the “suitability and credentialing executive agent.”
The policy agreement comes as the Defense Department begins to take over responsibility for the federal background investigations mission from OPM. DOD has already begun conducting background investigations, and officials says the department will complete the takeover by Oct. 1.
The new framework agreed to by federal agencies is borne out of a “Trusted Workforce 2.0” initiative started last year.
The ODNI and OPM statement notes the initiative's initial thrust helped drive down the background investigations backlog from a peak of 725,000 cases in early 2018 to roughly 551,000 cases today. Implementation of the new framework represents the second stage of Trusted Workforce 2.0.
“For the first time, a single, top-level core doctrine will govern federal personnel vetting,” the statement reads. “Lower-level guidelines and standards will all derive from this core doctrine and contain more specific details on implementation.”
Under the new model, initial vetting “establishes the initial baseline of trust in an individual,” while “continuous vetting” will replace periodic re-investigations every five or 10 years, according to the statement. Continuous vetting, which includes continuous evaluation, is a central feature of the Pentagon's plan to take over background investigations.
The government is also focused on scenarios where individuals moving to higher-level positions need an upgraded level of vetting, as well as situations where “reestablishing trust” is necessary after an employee spends time away from government and is not subject to continuous vetting.
Additionally, officials are putting an emphasis on “transfer of trust,” referring to the long-standing goal of allowing cleared individuals to seamlessly move from one organization to another.
“Through transfer of trust, the government will address long-standing challenges with mobility and improve the speed of moving an individual between agencies,” the statement reads.
The government will reduce the types of background investigation from five to three, which will “help to reduce confusion, better align investigative activities based on risk, eliminate repetitive investigative checks, and concentrate investigative resources,” according to the statement.
The framework also allows for a more flexible set of investigative tools. “For example, a minor overdue debt could leverage an electronic interview, while a more significant issue might mandate a comprehensive in-person interview,” ODNI and OPM offer as an example.
Furthermore, agencies want to lift some of the burden on background investigators by leveraging “trusted information providers,” such as human resources practitioners and military recruiters, to meet investigative requirements, according to the statement.
“With the overarching framework developed, the next steps involve working through interagency processes to get the specifics right and begin issuing and implementing the policies across the federal government to bring about change,” the statement continues. “In the coming months, ODNI and OPM anticipate several Executive Branch policies to be issued that will provide high-level direction, establish an aggressive path forward, and outline immediate steps to bridge to the future state.”
Inside Defense reported in November on an imminent executive order to formally shift the background investigations mission to DOD, with the Defense Security Service consolidating several entities and rebranding as the “Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency.”