It will be roughly 18 months to two years before the Defense Department completes building out a next-generation computer system to house federal background check data, the director of the new agency that manages the clearance process said Thursday.
That new system will be built to securely store background check information collected by the National Background Investigation Bureau and its contractors along with information collected by other federal agencies and shared by law enforcement, NBIB Director Charles Phalen, Jr. told an interagency group.
Information shared by law enforcement could form the basis for programs to continuously evaluate cleared federal employees for red flags rather than conducting full re-investigations every five to 10 years, he said.
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There are several continuous evaluation pilot programs in the military and intelligence community, but the practice isn’t yet widespread.
While NBIB waits on its updated system, the agency plans to update its public-facing, and notoriously onerous, Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing, or e-QIP, system, Phalen told members of the National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee.
“This is our front face to our population that we’re clearing, and we’ve got to do a better job of how we’re presenting ourselves,” he said.
The Obama administration launched NBIB in January in the wake of the Office of Personnel Management data breach, which compromised background information of 21.5 million current and former federal employees and their families. The agency’s reputation was previously damaged by a data breach at background check contractor USIS, which OPM cut ties with in 2014.
The new agency effectively retains responsibility for conducting most background investigations inside OPM, but transfers responsibility for securing the networks that hold that information to DOD.
Long backlogs created by the end of the USIS contract and the OPM breach continue to plague the government, Phalen said, though the government is getting back on track.
Contracts with a quartet of background check contractors are set to kick off this year. That will bring the total number of contractor background investigators to roughly 6,000, Phalen said, plus 2,000 federal investigators, 400 of them hired in 2016. NBIB plans to hire an additional 200 federal investigators in 2017, Phalen said.
Average wait times for various background investigations range from 95 days to more than 200 days, according to the most recent quarterly report.