The Department of Defense formally became the lead agency for conducting background investigations for current and potential feds and contractors Oct. 1, fulfilling congressional and administration requirements that the Pentagon take charge of such investigations at the start of the 2020 fiscal year.

According to a Department of Defense official who spoke on background to reporters Oct. 1, the transfer consisted of approximately 2,900 federal employees from the Office of Personnel Management’s National Background Investigation Bureau to the DoD’s new Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, which encompasses both background investigation duties and industrial and technological security.

“We’ve created what is arguably the single largest security-focused agency in the federal government,” the official said.

Employees of the background investigation agency moved from being Title 5 employees at OPM to Title 10 employees at DoD, a position that is effectively the same, according to the official, and only a handful of employees chose to take discontinued service retirement rather than move to DoD.

"Merging the components into one organization will allow us to execute our two core missions: personnel vetting and critical technology protection, underpinned by counterintelligence and training,'’ said Charles Phalen Jr., acting director of DCSA, in the news release on the merger.

The background investigation transition was initiated by Congress through provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, which required that the Pentagon take back responsibility of vetting its own staff and contractors.

That work makes up about 75 percent of the total background investigation mission, and as such the Trump administration determined that it would be more effective to move the whole operation to DoD.

“Moving the entire mission intact, from essentially one spot to another spot, reduced significantly the potential for mayhem to be created,” the official said. “That allows us to continue working towards those goals of the reducing the time [to investigate] numbers, reducing the inventory [of cases] and staying focused.”

The total inventory of the security clearance backlog currently sits at 302,000 cases, and officials have the goal of reducing that number to 200,000 by the first day of 2020.

Employees that transitioned from NBIB to DoD have no change to their duties or duty location, and the leadership at the agency will also remain largely the same: Charles Phalen retired his previous role as director of NBIB and moved to become solely the acting director of DCSA. According to the official, the agency is examining who would be best suited to take over as permanent director of the new agency, but there is no set timeline for doing so and Phalen is expected to oversee the transition.

''Transition teams from DCSA and NBIB have worked together closely to prepare for this merger. Their efforts have enabled the transfer of NBIB’s mission, personnel, resources and assets to the DoD in a transparent and seamless way,'' said Joseph Kernan, under secretary of defense for intelligence, in the news release.

''This merger advances National Defense Strategy objectives to enhance our security environment and maintain lethality by protecting critical defense information from theft or disclosure.''

Although employees and operations of NBIB were fully transferred over to DoD as of Oct. 1, the agency will still have work to reformat the industrial and technological security components of its mission, as well as work to develop a new system for processing security clearances.

The DoD will still continue to use OPM IT systems to process investigations until the planned National Background Investigation System is up an running.

The official said that the first component of that system the public is likely to see is a more effective e-QIP, the electronic system that potential employees fill and submit their background investigation forms through.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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