OPM to absorb Defense background investigation service

The Office of Personnel Management by Feb. 20 will take over 90 percent to 95 percent of the background clearances for all nonpresidential appointees.

OPM and Defense Department officials today announced OPM will absorb 1,850 employees from the Defense Security Service and take over another 1 million investigations a year, said Heather Anderson, acting director of the Defense Security Service.

'This culminates an effort that OPM director Kay Coles James and undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz started two years ago with the goal of improving the governmentwide capacity to conduct background investigations,' said Stephen Benowitz, OPM's associate director for Human Resources Products and Services. 'Our hope is that the group of investigations that are more critical'those with top-secret clearances'we will complete them in 60 to 90 days once we finish those already in process.'

Investigations on average take anywhere from a few days to as much as a year, Benowitz said.

OPM already does about 1.5 million investigations a year for all civilian agencies and now will take on the background checks for DOD civilian and military personnel, and contractor employees, Anderson said.

'OPM has been in the business of background since there has been a business,' Benowitz said of the added workload. 'We have been doing this for 45 percent to 50 percent of the government for years.'

DOD has been using OPM's background investigative system, called the Personnel Investigations Processing System, since October 2003, and OPM trained Defense Security Service personnel last summer. DOD officials estimate that migrating to OPM's system saved the agency $100 million in cost avoidance from having to do upgrades on their personnel system.

DOD will join the civilian agencies in paying for these services from OPM, which charges departments based on the type of clearance required.

With the transfer of more than 1,800 employees, OPM will increase its total workers by 60 percent and officials hope over the next two years to raise the number of employees and contractors performing investigations to 6,000.

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