New Security Clearance Office Gets First Permanent Leader

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The new program office is getting a permanent director nearly five months after shifting the background investigations process to the Defense Department.

The government security clearance and background investigation system—currently in the midst of the most significant overhaul since the process was created—has new permanent leadership.

On Monday, the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency announced William Lietzau would become the agency’s first permanent director.

While the security clearance process is not new, the system has gone through a number of changes since the Office of Personnel Management’s networks were breached in a hack announced publicly in 2015. Since that time, the process was completely overhauled on the civilian side, including standing up the National Background Investigations Bureau within OPM and legislation putting the impetus on the Defense Department to develop a secure IT backbone to support this work.

As NBIB worked to stand up the new program and decrease the swelling clearance backlog, Congress and the Trump administration opted to move the entire process to the Defense Department, including the caseload and 2,000-plus NBIB staff. The program was merged with DOD’s Defense Security Service, which was renamed the Defense Counterintelligence Security Agency.

Since the move was completed in October, DCSA has brought the backlog down to a manageable “steady state” and pain points from agencies and industry are being addressed.

Then-NBIB Director Charles Phalen was tapped to lead DCSA on an acting basis through the transition. With that work done, Phalen is stepping back as Lietzau takes over. An agency representative said Phalen will retire soon.

"I want to thank Charlie for his dedication and commitment to the DCSA mission,” Joseph Kernan, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, said in a statement Tuesday. “But most significantly, I want to thank him for his willingness to lead the DCSA workforce through one of the largest organizational transfers in the executive branch and positioning the agency for transformation while maintaining uninterrupted support for all of DoD and its government agency customers.”

Lietzau is a Marine Corps veteran with 30 years of public service, both in uniform and as a civilian. Prior to taking the role as DCSA director, he served as the director of the Defense Department’s Personnel Vetting Transformation Office, working directly with Phalen on the transition.

He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s School, the U.S. Naval Academy, National Defense University and Yale Law School.

"Bill's leadership experience within the military, government and industry, combined with his role leading DCSA transformation efforts, make him the ideal candidate to hit the ground running and lead the DCSA," Kernan said. "Bill understands the criticality of the background investigation and security mission, and the necessity to ensure a trusted workforce and protect critical defense information from theft or disclosure."

Editor's note: This article was updated with Charles Phalen's retirement plans.