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How Sending Security Clearance Checks to Defense Will Affect the Workforce

Personnel transfers will begin by June 24, but the details aren't all hammered out yet.

Now that President Trump has signed a long-awaited executive order authorizing the transfer of the National Background Investigations Bureau from the Office of Personnel Management to the Defense Department, what does that mean for OPM?

In short, the details are not clear yet. 

The executive order calls for the transfer of roughly 2,000 employees at OPM’s National Background Investigations Bureau to the Defense Department under the Defense Security Service, now renamed the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency. But that new agency has until June 24 to become the “primary entity” to conduct background investigations, and it is not slated to handle all clearance checks until September.

Many of the big questions that surround the transfer remain unanswered by the executive order, said Lindy Kyzer, senior editor of ClearanceJobs.com and a Government Executive contributor.

“There’s just been so much buildup for this that now that it’s signed and you read the EO, it’s hard to pull from it how this really changes,” she said. “The main thing is we’ve had reassurances from NBIB and DSS and all of the government officials who wanted it signed that nothing will change, and that the process was already kind of in progress.”

Defense Department spokesman Christopher Sherwood said the transfer of "operations, personnel and resources" from NBIB to the Pentagon will begin by June 24, although officials are still working out the details.

"At the outset, NBIB employees will continue to perform their day-to-day functions and tasks within their respective areas," Sherwood said. "All NBIB government employees will be transferred from OPM to DoD personnel systems during [fiscal 2019]. Long term plans for how transferred personnel and facilities will be integrated into DoD are still under development. It's important to note that any changes that occur will happen over time."

Kyzer said that although a major transition is typically ripe for confusion and “pain points” for both employees and customers, this effort has gone relatively smoothly so far.

“As it continues, we’ll have to see, are those reassurances that the industry won’t feel more pain from this process [accurate] and we won’t have more delays or issues through this transition?” she said. “Or as this all comes together, will there be some roadblocks? It does seem like there are a lot of adults in the room managing the change process across the different prongs of government.”

Although OPM likely won’t need to organize a massive move of employees and equipment from its headquarters to the Pentagon—a majority of NBIB employees are based in the field and spread across the country—one of the trickiest parts of the transition will be handling the consolidation of NBIB and the Defense Department’s various regional offices and jurisdictions.

“I haven’t heard it answered what will happen to field offices,” Kyzer said. “Most employees are truly remote so there’s some limited number of field staff, but I’m sure they don’t want the redundancy of OPM and Defense [regional offices], and they’ll have to come to some understanding of what the regional structure looks like, what the field offices look like and where they’re located and who owns what territory.”

As officials prepare for the transition of responsibilities to the Pentagon and for changing from the practice of periodic reinvestigation to continuous evaluation, one key challenge will be to avoid alienating employees. Kyzer noted that one of the initial causes of the security clearance backlog was OPM’s cancellation of its contract with U.S. Investigations Services, after which many contractor employees simply left the field.

“When the USIS contract was canceled, the government didn’t realize that those contractors weren’t going to come back,” she said. “A lot of them just said, ‘This doesn’t pay well enough to deal with all these headaches, so I’ll find a different career.’ If NBIB experiences the same thing, either through a loss of contracts or the workforce—either contract or government personnel—not wanting to go along with this change, we could have more problems.”