OPM preparing for security clearance process changes ahead of results of 90-day review

The results from the White House’s mandated 90-day review of the federal security clearance process should be ready in the coming weeks based on signals from the Office of Personnel Management.

OPM released a request for proposal last month for a workforce planning study of its Federal Investigative Services (FIS) ahead of any review findings.

“While the Suitability and Security Performance Accountability Council’s review recommendations are not yet known, the review will likely suggest programmatic and organizational changes to the FIS program,” the task orders stated. “In preparation for these changes, OPM’s Workforce Planning study will assess how OPM’s Executive Offices and Administrative and Management Programs would be directly and indirectly impacted, both operationally and financially. The study will also include workload, staffing, and organizational restructuring / redesign recommendations at different staff reduction and/or augmentation levels. Lastly, the study may include process analysis and improvement recommendations.”

On July 9, the White House assigned the Suitability and Security Performance Accountability Council — an interagency group led by the Office of Management and Budget and comprised of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the director of OPM, in their respective roles as security and suitability executive agents and representatives of the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Energy and others and the FBI,  to conduct a review of key questions related to information security, governance, policy, and other aspects of the security and suitability determination process, to ensure that it is conducted in the most efficient, effective and secure manner possible.

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While it’s unclear what the council will decide about which agency owns the security clearance process, change is coming.

Sources say the council’s discussions have focused on moving the investigative services to either DHS or the FBI, but for assorted reasons, those options may not viable.

The other two options are moving the services back to DoD or keeping them at OPM but under a new set up.

The 90-day review kicked off in July and should’ve been done by October but the administration has yet to signal or release any results.

Either way, OPM is planning for changes.

The RFP, which OPM released through its training and management assistance (TMA) multiple award contract and Federal News Radio obtained, says the change could impact approximately 600 employees within 12 offices that support FIS, as well as another 250 IT contractors.

“Rather than focus on the FIS program’s direct and indirect operational and financial impacts, the study will focus on assessing and recommending the level of effort required to support work within and amongst other OPM organizations,” the RFP stated. “The study will also recommend workload, staffing, and organizational restructuring/redesign recommendations at different staff reduction and/or augmentation levels. Lastly, the study may include process analysis and improvement recommendations.”

OPM wants reports from the winning contractor anywhere from 90 days after award to June 2016.

Bids on the RFP were due in early December, according to industry sources.

The final decision of where the investigative actions live could come down to a mix of history and optics. First off, OPM has struggled with its security clearance efforts for several years. The agency’s inspector general found in June 2014 OPM needed to strengthen its oversight of contractors conducting the initial investigations. The lack of oversight led to the “dumping” of security clearances by USIS investigators and eventually OPM bringing back to federal employees a large portion of the security clearance process.

Secondly, the administration would face heavy criticism by Congress and others if OPM continued to take on security clearances in the same manner it currently does.

Finally, the security clearance challenge has been ongoing for some time and reforms have been slow.

This was the second time the White House has tried to improve the security clearance process. After the attack on the Navy Yard by Aaron Alexis, an interagency review made recommendations and the White House accepted 13 of them.

But this latest attempt in the post OPM hack environment likely will go farther. How much farther, we will soon find out.