Defense background check authority may transfer to OPM

Nearly 2,000 Defense Security Service employees will transfer to the Office of Personnel Management if Congress approves legislation allowing OPM to take over the Pentagon's background investigation services.

The transfer of the Defense Department's background investigation services to OPM is part of the Bush administration's fiscal 2004 budget proposal released Monday. The plan calls for OPM to take all of the DSS employees under its wing, despite the fact that much of OPM's background investigation services are conducted by a contractor, U.S. Investigations Services, rather than by that agency's staff. The 1,800 DSS employees would not be required to move job locations and would see no change in pay or benefits.

On Friday, OPM will roll out e-Clearance, an e-government initiative that will automate the security clearance process. Agency officials said e-Clearance and transferring DSS to OPM makes sense.

"As we take advantage of e-Clearance and other re-engineering, we will have an opportunity to look at how the workforce for supporting the governmentwide investigations function should be structured," a senior OPM official said Wednesday. "Homeland security has raised the whole profile of investigations and security and as we look down the road and design the best way to manage this, I think we have to keep an open mind because we don't know how its going to turn out."

The move would put 80 percent of the government's background check business under OPM's oversight. The two agencies have worked together in the past two years to help reduce a background investigations backlog at the Defense Department, which has more than 2.4 million personnel with security clearances.

"DoD did have a backlog of investigations, and they came to OPM several years ago for help in resolving that backlog; that's how OPM and DoD first came to have a cooperative relationship," another OPM official said. "We are determined and we have made a commitment to put the necessary resources in place to ensure that investigation requests are handled quickly and in a timely fashion."

Allowing OPM to take over this process will lead to a more efficient process and will save money, officials said Wednesday.

"This will provide better access for agencies who are granting these clearances, and e-Clearance will improve the process even further," OPM officials said.

Congress must approve the swap before the move becomes official, but tentative plans include a full transfer of the affected staff to OPM by October 2004.

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