Dropping the Price Point for Doing Background Investigations May Help Improve Vetting
Reducing costs and improving investigation quality has been a key goal of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency.
The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency conducts background investigations for approximately 105 federal agencies as a reimbursable service through a working capital fund. For the third year in a row, DCSA has been able to reduce the price it charges those agencies to provide background investigation and investigative services related to Trusted Workforce 2.0.
For fiscal year 2023, background investigation prices are reduced by 5%prices for Trusted Workforce 1.5 Continuous Vetting (CV) services were reduced by 23%. It’s worth noting that the pricing is just for the background investigations piece of the personnel vetting puzzle. Initiation and adjudication costs would fall under agency expenses (as each agency conducts its own adjudications), and those costs are not rolling into DCSA’s working capital fund. The investigation cost is for the collection and reporting of information relevant to making the security clearance determination.
FISCAL YEAR 2023 SECURITY CLEARANCE INVESTIGATION COSTS
“DCSA is helping our customers by standardizing pricing to support predictability in annual and long-range customer agency budgeting, and simplify the DCSA billing process,” said DCSA Director William K. Lietzau in a release. “Our efforts to reform our pricing processes while implementing major change to enterprise-wide personnel vetting is paying off not only in higher quality vetting, but in cost savings for customers across government.”
DCSA conducts security clearance background investigations using funds through its working capital fund. The working capital fund model means the funds used to finance background investigation costs aren’t tied to a fiscal year – the fund is self-sustaining and based on the costs paid by agencies for investigation services. Describing the working capital fund in a January 2022 publication of the DCSA’s Access publication, Jack Jibilian, DCSA noted “the balance in the Working Capital Fund will have gains or losses within each fiscal year. If we have gains, we may return them to customers by setting lower rates, and we can also establish higher rates to recover losses. Just like an individual checking account, a Working Capital Fund must maintain a positive cash balance at all times.”
For fiscal year 2024, the projected pricing for background investigations evolves into a three-tier investigation model, with low tier, moderate tier, and high tier investigation pricing. For both the current tiers and future tiers model there is a standard and priority pricing model (although there is no priority option for tier one and tier three investigations).
FISCAL YEAR 2024 (PROJECTED) SECURITY CLEARANCE INVESTIGATION COSTS
Transforming Security and Saving Taxpayer Dollars
Reducing costs and improving investigation quality has been a key goal even before DCSA took over the background investigations process from NBIB in 2019. Business process transformation analyzed various steps of the background investigation process to see where effort could be improved without hindering investigation quality.
“Probably 90% of reductions in the actual cost to do investigations can come through improvements in internal processing – how you improve your intake, collation, and review of information,” said Charlie Phalen, former acting director of the DCSA and principal with C.S. Phalen & Associates. “Business process improvements, automation, and not having humans involved at every stage of the process – something as simple as importing fingerprint data, for instance – all contribute to being able to reduce costs.”
Many of those same business process efforts helped the agency to continue to move investigations forward during the COVID-19 pandemic, as investigators moved toward more telephone verification and other options for completing background investigations moving through the process without increasing risk. As DCSA moves ahead, it will be worth following if they continue with COVID-19 related efficiencies, even as the threat of spreading the disease wanes.
Benefits of the Cost Reduction and Common Cost Myths
The ability to reduce investigations costs helps eliminate concern from agencies about having the funds to keep personnel moving through the process. The Air Force, in particular, has been a frequent contributor to background investigation budget myths. Last year around this time a memo from the Department of Air Force stated that due to end of fiscal year budget constraints the military branch was suspending all tiered background investigations and reinvestigations. While the policy stated, “background investigations required for processing military accessions and civilian new hires will not be impacted by this suspension,” the memo led to online chatter about whether or not pending background investigations would face a full stop stall as the branch barreled into the last quarter of the fiscal year.
The working capital fund ensures DCSA can keep moving investigations forward even with an influx of investigations – and that agencies have to plan and budget accordingly.
There are several money myths related to background investigations. The working capital fund dispels the common myth that DCSA doesn’t have the funds to conduct investigations. Another myth surrounds who pays for investigations in the first place. Many contract applicants assume background investigations are paid for by their contracting company. While contractors incur costs to maintain a personnel security program or onboard applicants (and keep them benched while waiting for a clearance determination), those investigation costs are always incurred and paid directly by the government – either the DoD or agency sponsoring the clearance.
Because background investigations are paid for by the federal government, that also means an individual can’t pay for their own background investigation. That’s another frequent myth – and request – from individuals hoping they can foot the bill for their own security clearance or upgraded level of access. But only the government can make that determination, and incur that cost.
Money matters. Budget issues and contract failures have caused issues for the security clearance process in the past. It’s unlikely DCSA will be able to continue to cut costs as it adjusts to inflation and keeps its working capital fund in the green. But being able to do so for yet another year demonstrates the agency’s commitment to process improvement and efficiencies are working – and that it’s passing those benefits on to the agencies it supports.
Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com.