OPM, ODNI turn to paper forms to keep security clearance process going

The Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have figured out how to keep the security clearance process going while the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) system is offline for cybersecurity fixes.

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper signed a memo July 2 outlining the new interim process that will be in place for at least the next four weeks.

Archuleta and Clapper said in a joint statement that the interim procedures should “address agencies’ requirements and reduce the likelihood of interruptions in the on-boarding of employees while prudently minimizing any security risks.”

Under the new interim procedures, OPM and ODNI said the applicant must provide hard copies of forms SF86, SF85, SF85P to the sponsoring agency, but not to OPM or ODNI.

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“When the e-QIP has been restored, the applicant will re-enter his or her personal information history into e-QIP so that the required investigation may be completed through the regular process,” the memo said. “Agencies shall maintain a list of all investigations initiated using these interim procedures and the subsequent date the investigations are processed through e-QIP when e-QIP service is restored.”

OPM and ODNI said there is no interim procedures for top secret, top secret SCI or “Q” level information.

OPM shut down e-QIP June 29 after it found a major cyber vulnerability.

The e-QIP system, developed first in 2003, lets employees, contractors or potential workers add their information to the SF-86 form and SF-85P over a secure Internet connection.

OPM said investigations started before June 27 would not be impacted by the shutdown of e-QIP.

But with tens of thousands of current employees and potential hires needing new or updated security clearances, lawmakers and contractors expressed concern over delays and a potential backlog.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) wrote to OPM on July 1 asking for answers to four questions about the impact of taking e-QIP offline.

“OPM reports that 20,000 to 30,000 background checks are submitted to Federal Investigative Services every week, while at the same time acknowledging that they already have a backlog in processing these submissions,” the senators wrote. “With the e-QIP system now reportedly down for at least four to six weeks, it will cause significant disruption to the process through which information is submitted to allow OPM to process security clearances. Although the time that e-QIP is offline will allow OPM to address the current backlog, that down time will also mean additional submissions will continue to pile up, exacerbating the problem when e-QIP is brought back online.”

The Professional Services Council, an industry association, also expressed similar concerns to OPM and Beth Cobert, the deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Stan Soloway, the president of PSC, asked Archuleta and Cobert to clarify how OPM will mitigate the impact of the system shutdown on the contractor community.

The interim procedures from OPM and ODNI should help answer many of these questions.

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