New Background Check Bureau Advances with Director, IT Plan

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The National Background Investigations Bureau begins operations Oct. 1.

Following a massive intrusion into federal background check records, a plan to revamp the technology underlying that records system is underway.

The Office of Personnel Management is spinning out its new background check agency Oct. 1, which will be led by Charles Phelan, formerly vice president of corporate security for Northrop Grumman.

In addition to heading up the new National Background Investigations Bureau, Phelan will lead a partnership with the Pentagon, tasked with setting up a more robust IT backbone for background check processes. NBIB, which will absorb personnel from the previous Federal Investigative Services, will remain within OPM, while the Defense Department is largely responsible for the technology, called the National Background Investigation System.

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Days before NBIB is set to open, OPM has a "detailed blueprint to guide our efforts," Acting Director Beth Cobert told reporters Thursday. The Defense Information Systems Agency has already started architecting the NBIS infrastructure, DOD Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen told reporters. Among improvements from the old system are capabilities that ensure no single user can access all system data and ways to better protect data at rest, he explained.

Earlier this month, DISA issued a request for information about commercial technology that could support NBIS. The system would have to automate the process that decides what type of check an individual needs to undergo and allow applicants to submit their own supporting information online, among other features.

Under Phelan, OPM plans to create a new office to automate background investigation records collection; the Federal Investigative Records Enterprise would also set up data exchanges for records and protocol on how to incorporate other sources such as social media checks. 

Halvorsen noted OPM's new CIO, David DeVries, had been his deputy at DOD and would be a large part of their collaboration. When DeVries' hire was announced in August, Halvorsen said he would still provide input to DOD while he worked at OPM.