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The workforce at the Office of Personnel Management’s National Background Investigations Bureau has received official offers this week to move to the Pentagon — where they’ll become employees of the newly renamed Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency.
The offers were expected as the Trump administration continues its preparations to transfer the governmentwide security clearance portfolio, as well as the existing authorities, resources and personnel associated with that program, from OPM and NBIB to DoD.
All of NBIB’s 3,200 employees received two notices Monday, from one OPM and one from DoD, senior defense and administration officials told reporters.
The OPM letter provided official notice to employees that their positions will officially move to DoD. The second letter serves as a “welcome” from the Defense Department.
“With the transfer of their jobs, their grade does not change, their work space does not change [and] their supervisor does not change, except for a few executives,” a senior administration official told reporters Monday morning. “The pay stays the same. They are just in a different payroll system; that’s really the big change here.”
DoD is using a “transfer of function” authority to officially move NBIB’s existing workforce from OPM to the Pentagon. Under a “transfers of function” authority, employees generally have the right to move with their work to another organization if the alternative is a reduction in force or separation.
“That’s exactly what we’re doing, where a set of functions is transferring from one agency to another,” a defense official said. “That’s the legal vehicle for doing this. There comes with that a process of notification, which is what is happening today. In some cases, transfers of function come with other things like reductions in force (RIFs), which we’re not doing. Every single person will be offered the same identical job in the same identical space, just under a new personnel system.”
Currently, NBIB employees are classified under the Title 5 personnel system. When they transfer to DoD, they’ll become title 10 employees under the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System, which has a two-year probationary period, as well as different performance standards and pay bands compared to title 5.
NBIB employees must accept and sign off on the transfer before becoming a DoD employee. The move will become official Sept. 29, the first day of a new payroll period, the senior defense official said.
DoD’s Personnel Vetting Transformation Office, which the department stood up as a temporary organization designed to oversee and implement change management activities associated with the security clearance transfer, has mapped out about 100 major projects with 480 milestones and roughly 2,000 individual tasks needed to accomplish the security clearance transfer by Oct. 1.
Informing NBIB employees of the upcoming changes to their jobs is one of those administrative tasks, defense officials said.
Monday’s notices follow several moves defense officials made last month to rename the Defense Security Service as the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency and recognize the DCSA as the single governmentwide security clearance provider.
The department also appointed Charlie Phalen, the existing NBIB director, to serve concurrently as the acting DCSA director until the two agencies essentially merge on Oct. 1.
Security clearance “transition” and “transformation”
As defense and NBIB officials have said for months now, both OPM and DoD have been preparing for the security clearance transfer for over a year, well before the President signed an executive order back in April, which made the move official.
The DoD Personnel Vetting Transformation Office got its start back in January and has 16 full-time federal employees managing three phases of the upcoming security clearance move: transfer, transition and transformation.
In addition, the department last year signed a $9 million business transformation support contract with Deloitte, the defense official said when detailing the costs associated with the security clearance transfer, which were described as minimal.
DoD has asked for $200 million in the fiscal 2020 budget to stand up a working capital fund for the DCSA. OPM’s NBIB uses a revolving fund today to accept fees from its agency customers for the cost of performing a security clearance or issuing a credential.
A working capital fund would largely mirror the current NBIB fund. Much of NBIB’s existing revolving fund — about $800 million or so — will also move to DoD’s new working capital fund, the senior administration official said.
Once the transfer itself is complete, DoD will turn its attention to the “transition” and “transformation” phases of the project.
DoD’s Personnel Vetting Transformation Office will next focus on consolidating existing NBIB and Defense Security Service field offices across the country, a defense official said.
The continued development of the National Background Investigations Service (NBIS) is also a priority. NBIS, which will eventually serve as the DCSA’s end-to-end security clearance system, has several pilots underway.
In the meantime, DoD plans to reimburse OPM for the continued use of NBIB’s legacy security clearance case management system, which a defense official on Monday said will likely continue for the next two years, if not three.
But the beyond the administrative move of people, administration and defense officials see the upcoming security clearance transfer as an opportunity for existing personnel to learn new skills and gain potential career opportunities as part of a freshly organized, end-to-end security organization.
Many of the opportunities will come when the Trump administration launches more modern policies and continuous vetting procedures under the Trusted Workforce 2.0 initiative, which are expected later this year, the defense official said.
“We’ll make extensive use of automated, data-driven aggregation analysis skills-sets that really don’t fully exist in the current enterprise,” the official said. “If you’re a background investigator today, you have a series of tasks. Some rely on automation, but a heavy part of that job is travel and interviews. We’re not going to get rid of any of that. But the balance of activity is going to shift significantly more into the technology, data and analytics side. We see that as an opportunity.”
Administration officials also see the coming security clearance transfer as opportunity for federal investigators to broaden their scope and more freely transition from one security job to another. Security clearances and adjudications, as well as critical technology and supply chain protection, are all part of the DCSA mission.
“The continuum of a security organization is that all these parts, whether it’s trusting people, trusting work spaces [or] IT, they all are a continuum. They all play off against each other and they don’t exist in a vacuum. Organizationally, we have put them in a vacuum, but they do not exist in a vacuum,” the administration official said. “As a security officer, understanding the totality of all this makes your job a lot easier, and you are able to see nuances in this part of the business.”