I found something possibly worse than being furloughed.
Filling out an SF-85P form. That’s 95 pages of detail about your life require to get a public trust position with the federal government. If somehow you got where you were without it, it looks like you’re going to have to fill out one anyway. Even if you did once fill out an SF-85P, if that was the pre-2017 version, you’ll need to do another one. Pick your weekend.
It’s all part of the latest developments in the Trusted Workforce 2.0 plan. The Trump administration birthed it, and the Biden administration is nurturing it. Judging from the web traffic for reporter Drew Friedman’s story, the central feature of TW2.0 has a lot of feds sitting upright at attention.
That would be the placing of those of you in non-sensitive jobs that nevertheless entail public trust to come under what’s known as continuous vetting. The Office of Personnel Management, in trying to fulfill the White House TW2.0 order, aims to do away with those every-five-year re-investigations. You know, where an FBI-designated investigator visits your neighbor and asks if you might’ve joined the Communist party.
Continuous vetting is now partly in effect by the National Background Investigation Service for people with formal security clearance. For such people, SF-85P has a big brother, SF-86 at 136 pages. Under continuous vetting, people with clearance stay cleared because a system scans publicly available records to discover if someone has been arrested, runs into financial trouble, or dabbles in terrorism. The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency has a pretty good diagram explaining how it works.
It so happens the DCSA has been testing continuous vetting for non-cleared employees. They don’t have security clearance at stake, but presumably management gets an alert if a particular covered employee ends up in jail on a gun charge, or racks up a million-dollar gambling debt.
So will you join the world of those under constant surveillance?
Eventually, but don’t hold your breath.
OPM is telling agencies it wants them to identify all of the non-sensitive, public trust positions and then enroll them in continuous vetting — get this — by the end of fiscal 2024, less than a year from now. This recent progress report from a group called the Security, Suitability and Credentialing Performance Accountability Council shows progress, to be sure. I sense the initiative will slow as agencies individually pick it up, like a wave moving from open ocean to a rock-dotted shoal.
There’s nothing inherently evil about the idea of continuous vetting itself. If you let contract or make grants or otherwise obligate funds on behalf of the government, if you draft policy, if you adjudicate any sort of case, if you do any of scores of things — you are entrusted with public trust. It matters. So anything that simplifies ensuring people entail undue risk, consistent with maintaining privacy and fair employment practices, will enhance the credibility of the federal workforce. And, one hopes, reduces whatever fraud and abuse may occur.
Eventually continuous vetting is supposed to apply to all feds, even those at low risk like, I don’t know, VA orderlies or executive assistants? For everyone else, the program runs the danger of inconsistent designation of who’s covered from department to department, agency to agency, bureau to bureau, office to office. Maybe a better course would just enroll everyone at the same time. Some people might be over-vetted, but the whole process might operate more efficiently.
On the other hand, why not set a goal of one year, even if it will really take two or three. If the goal were set to two years, it would end up taking five.