Industry Groups Push for Background Check Reform In Intelligence Appropriations Bill

Vadim Ermak/

With a backlog of more than 700,000 pending investigations, the groups are pushing for tools to speed up information collection and ways to reduce redundant investigations.

Technology and defense industry trade groups are urging Congress to use the must-pass intelligence community appropriations bill to make sweeping reforms to the government’s antiquated security clearance process.

In a letter to House and Senate Intelligence Committee leaders, the organizations recommended lawmakers preserve 10 provisions in the Intelligence Authorization Act that would streamline background checks and increase oversight of a security clearance backlog that’s grown to more than 700,000 pending investigations.

The letter was signed by the Aerospace Industries Association, Intelligence and National Security Alliance, National Defense Industrial Association, Northern Virginia Technology Council and Professional Services Council.

“The persistent backlog of nearly 700,000 cases in process and the unacceptably long wait times for a security clearance are pressing matters for industry, but more importantly, they undermine the national security missions our members support,” the groups wrote. Leaving the measures they highlighted in the final version of the IAA would make the background check process “better, faster and more secure.”

Some measures highlighted in the letter would help cut into the backlog by speeding up information collection and reducing redundant investigations.

One provision would equip investigators with mobile tablets for conducting interviews instead of paper and pencil, and push agencies to adopt artificial intelligence tools that could regularly update background information for employees, a process known as continuous evaluation. Another would require agency leaders to explore the potential for reciprocity, which would allow employees to transfer clearances if they move organizations.

Current provisions in the bill would also increase transparency into the actions different groups are taking to accelerate the clearance process.

The Performance Accountability Council, the body that oversees governmentwide vetting, would be required to submit a plan for reducing the backlog to 500,000 by the end of the year and 200,000 by the end of 2019.

In 2017, a background check for secret clearance took on average 134 days to complete, roughly triple the expected timeline, while investigations for top-secret clearance lasted some 331 days, more than quadruple the expected timeline, according to the Office of Personnel Management. The current bill would set new timeliness goals at 30 days for secret clearances and 90 days for top secret clearances.

“Essential work goes unperformed as neither government nor industry partners can recruit for critical national security missions or compete to hire the best and brightest when those individuals have to wait months or even years before being able to work,” PSC President and CEO David Berteau told Nextgov. “The intelligence community and supporting contractors deserve a better process. We are hopeful and cautiously optimistic that these provisions will be retained, strengthened and enacted.”

Agency leaders and lawmakers have long struggled to rein in the constantly expanding backlog of federal employees, applicants and contractors awaiting background checks for government jobs. In January, the Government Accountability Office added the clearance system to its high-risk list, and officials are reconsidering which agency should run the process in the first place.