Pending Executive Order to Move Entire Background Investigation Bureau to Pentagon

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The president is preparing to sign an order to move the entire National Background Investigations Bureau—workload, people and all—under the Defense Department.

The government's head of background investigations is fully in favor of moving his office, staff and workload under the Defense Department, a shift that is expected to become official under an impending presidential executive order.

Congress passed legislation last year requiring the National Background Investigations Bureau—part of the Office of Personnel Management—to transfer investigations of Defense personnel and contractors to that department. NBIB would retain only the civilian government portion, but that partial shift would ultimately be untenable, according to administration officials.

“The truth is that that split would have been debilitating, distracting and, frankly, counterproductive,” NBIB Director Charles Phalen said during an Aug. 7 Nextgov event on insider threats. “Good news is, after further review … the administration had determined that bifurcation is probably not a good idea.”

The administration’s government reorganization plan released in June called for transferring the entirety of the investigations workload to the Defense Department. Multiple officials told Nextgov an executive order is in the works to make that happen.

Investigating potential employees on behalf of defense agencies accounts for some 70 percent of the workload, Phalen said. He couldn’t comment on the pending executive order or a timeline for its signing but said the administration—and his bureau—would be behind a full shift.

All NBIB personnel, facilities, assets and workload—approximately 2 million investigations a year—would fall under the purview of the Defense Department’s Defense Security Service.

“I think, in the long run, this is a much better solution and will keep us able as an organization—as an intact organization—to stay focused on what is the most important stuff we’re doing: the initial trust determinations that are made about individuals working for the government and the ability to track those individuals,” he said.

NBIB, which started operating in October 2016, was created as a direct response to the 2015 hacking of OPM databases, which exposed highly sensitive personal information on more than 20 million current, former and prospective federal employees. Even at its formation, NBIB split duties with the Defense Department. The legislation required the Defense Department to build a secure IT system to handle and house investigations, dubbed the National Background Investigations Services, or NBIS.

“It will improve our ingest … It will improve our ability to get to data sourcing. It will essentially be the permanent record that the nuns always warned me about when I was in elementary school,” Phalen said.

Phalen said the work on NBIS is underway—the Defense Information Systems Agency awarded a $49 million contract to Enterprise Services, LLC in June—though we likely won’t see results too soon.

“It can’t come fast enough,” he said. But full functionality “won’t come in the next year or so. It’s going to be built out over time.”