DCSA cuts background investigation rates again

DCSA is reducing rates by 18% in fiscal 2024, amid the governmentwide shift to continuous vetting.

The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency is reducing background investigations rates for the third year in a row, as investigations continue to get faster and cheaper amid a shift to “continuous vetting.”

DCSA is cutting the prices it charges agencies for background investigations by 18% in fiscal 2024, the agency announced in a recent notice. DCSA Director Bill Lietzau credited the ongoing reforms under Trusted Workforce 2.0 and the shift to replace periodic reinvestigations with continuous vetting.

“If you look at project management, you hear, ‘cost, schedule, performance,’” Lietzau said during a Feb. 14 Intelligence and National Security Alliance webinar. “Your price goes up if you want to go faster, price goes up if you want higher quality. We’re enjoying a situation where, it’s not only clearly better quality, we’re clearly faster. And I just signed off on the third price reduction in three years.”

It took an average of 76 days to initiate, investigate and adjudicate the fastest 90% of initial secret-level clearance cases in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022, per the latest update from the Security, Suitability, and Credentialing Performance Accountability Council. The average for initial top-secret clearances during the same time frame was 127 days.

Periodic reinvestigations are mostly a thing of the past for security clearance holders. There were just 20,000 governmentwide periodic reinvestigation cases for secret and top-secret clearances by the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022, according to the PAC update.

Meanwhile, approximately 4.5 million Defense Department personnel, civilians and contractors are enrolled in continuous vetting, a system of automated and continuous records checks that flag when a clearance holder faces a potential eligibility issue, like an arrest.

The regularity of the checks depends on the sensitivity of the position in question. But Lietzau said the system is flagging issues years before a periodic reinvestigation would have turned them up.

“Last year alone, we referred over 2,000 cases to law enforcement or to some insider threat hub, beyond just suspending eligibility for clearance,” he said. “So we found things that needed to be criminally prosecuted because of continuous vetting.”

Beyond security clearance holders, the Office of Personnel Management is also proposing to put most other federal employees and contractors in public trust positions under the continuous vetting system.

OPM and DCSA are planning to launch a continuous vetting pilot in the second quarter of fiscal 2023 for non-sensitive public trust positions, according to the PAC update.

“The pilot will identify lessons learned prior to agencies beginning the phased enrollment of their populations,” the update states.

Lietzau also said DCSA is testing the use of “big data analytics” to aid in its investigations and adjudications work, but added no final decisions have been made about whether to use specific tools more broadly.

“We have ways of using big data analytics to look at all the adjudications we did over a period of time and which ones came out a certain way, and what were the things that we might be able to identify as a good indicator that this one deserves more scrutiny than others,” he said.

While DCSA has seen success in reducing the background investigations backlog, cutting both timelines and pricing, and shifting to continuous vetting, Lietzau acknowledged a major challenge remains the successful development of the National Background Investigation Services (NBIS) IT system.

NBIS is being developed as an “end-to-end” replacement for several disparate, legacy systems used to process background investigations cases and information. The agency launched a key piece of NBIS last year with the new “e-App” system used to submit security clearance applications.

“As we take continuous vetting and move it all into an end-to-end environment with one IT system, a modern IT system — not the one built in 1984 that we’re replacing — but the one that is an end-to-end system, we start bringing components into that while building it,” Lietzau said. “That’s the most challenging part that we’re working on right now.”


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