Leading the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency may be a job no one wants – but it’s an important one
COMMENTARY | “It’s vitally important that the Defense Department onboard the right person for the job, to continue to keep the workforce stabilized and growing,” writes one observer.
A critical role in the national security community will soon become open. Director of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency William Lietzau announced his plans to retire in an email announcement to staff on July 19. Lietzau says the departure will not be abrupt but hopes to give the agency adequate time to find a replacement before he makes his retirement from federal service.
It’s unclear who the next director of DCSA will be, but the DOD will likely carefully consider the right selection for the role given the current climate around security clearance process reforms in the wake of Airman Jack Teixeira’s alleged leaks of classified information, and the recent release of results of a 45-day review of the security clearance process.
The review includes a push for better training for the cleared workforce and a Joint Insider Threat Taskforce. Recommendations called for several other joint initiatives with the undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security and DCSA. Those changes and initiatives come as the National Background Investigation Services (NBIS) comes on board – the importance of NBIS to the personnel vetting program can’t be overstated and will have a significant impact on both DOD and the more than 100 federal agencies who use DCSA to conduct their background investigations.
Taking the helm of the nation’s largest security organization at a time of persistent threats coming from both internal and external actors may be a job no one wants – but it’s an important one. The right skills for the job include equal parts cat herder and train conductor, blending the personnel security, physical security, and technological advancement needed for a modern security agency. Overhauling technology and maintaining the workforce have been key muscle movements of Lietzau’s tenure – and will remain so in the months to come.
The Creation and Growth of the Federal Government’s Largest Security Agency
Lietzau was the first director of DCSA, a role that consolidated functions from the Office of Personnel Management and National Background Investigations Bureau and Defense Security Service. The agency combined core roles and missions across the personnel vetting space into one consolidated agency, inheriting an antiquated technology system and a security clearance process beleaguered with critics and calls for reform.
In the three years Lietzau has been at DCSA, the agency has fully implemented Continuous Vetting, ushered in a new security clearance application process (eApp), and by the end of the fiscal year, hopes to fully implement National Background Investigations Services, an effort that has been underway over the past several years and is a critical step to ensure the data security behind the personnel vetting process.
Lietzau’s departure letter to the agency emphasized that he took on the role with a focus on merging those missions. He held on as he continued to see the agency grow and attain success. Lietzau says he initially saw the role as one of managing “the turmoil of transition and transformation,” with COVID challenges only exacerbating the already significant obstacles of merging disparate agencies and functions and creating new standards.
During Lietzau’s tenure key elements of Trusted Workforce 2.0 moved forward, security clearance processing times began to move closer to benchmarks, and the backlog of pending security clearances reached a steady state.
New Director of DCSA Takes Helm at Critical Time
Lietzau’s departure note to his workforce emphasized his appreciation for and commitment to the organization. Over the past several months the agency has created a new seal, published a new vision statement, and created a roadmap for the many acquisition capabilities and new IT systems. Lietzau emphasized that the agency kept the plane flying – and converted it into a jet – while in flight.
“Serving as the Director of DCSA has been the highlight of my career,” Lietzau wrote in his departing letter. “As I depart, I do so knowing that the nation’s premier provider of integrated security services is in the hands of the most dedicated and patriotic Americans serving anywhere in the Federal Government. Not everyone can be a Gatekeeper. Some chase money; some power; some glamour. But DCSA employees are driven by a love for country, a dedication to mission, and a commitment to people. That is why I end where I started; I will always be proud to have served among you—America’s Gatekeepers.”
No clear successor for the DCSA mission has been suggested, but it’s vitally important DOD onboard the right person for the job, to continue to keep the workforce stabilized and growing, NBIS up and running, and the trains of transformation moving forward.