President Trump signed an executive order solidifying the expected shift in government-wide background investigation duties from the Office of Personnel Management to the Defense Department.
The National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 established that the DoD would conduct backgrounds on its own staff and contractors during a phased transition coordinated with OPM.
“Implementing that legislative mandate while retaining the benefit of economies of scale in addressing the Federal Government’s background investigations workload, avoiding unnecessary risk, promoting the ongoing alignment of efforts with respect to vetting Federal employees and contractors, and facilitating needed reforms in this critical area requires that the primary responsibility for conducting background investigations Government-wide be transferred from the Office of Personnel Management to the Department of Defense,” states the executive order.
The National Background Investigations Bureau will be able to perform background investigations on behalf of DoD during a transition period running through Sept. 30, though the date for DoD to become the “primary entity for conducting effective, efficient, and secure background investigations” for sensitive positions is June 24. By the latter date, DoD is expected to have worked out what OPM’s “appropriate support functions” will be.
The Defense Security Service (DSS) will be rebranded the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). Personnel are expected to be moved from NBIB to DCSA.
“This executive order reflects the administration’s commitment to reform the personnel vetting enterprise to ensure a trusted federal workforce and achieve an efficient, effective, and secure operation that meets all government-wide needs for background investigations,” the Defense Department said in a statement, adding that “efforts to undertake the transfer of OPM’s background investigation function and associated personnel, resources, and facilities to DOD will begin immediately.”
“The DCSA shall serve as the primary Federal entity for conducting background investigations for the Federal Government. The DCSA shall, as a continuation of the former DSS, serve as the primary Department of Defense component for the National Industrial Security Program and shall execute responsibilities relating to continuous vetting, insider threat programs, and any other responsibilities assigned to it by the Secretary of Defense consistent with law,” the order continues. “The Secretary of Defense may rename the DCSA and reassign any of its responsibilities to another Department of Defense component or components, provided, however, that the Secretary of Defense shall consult with the Directors of National Intelligence, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Office of Management and Budget before renaming the DCSA or reassigning the responsibilities.”
The order adds that the DCSA “shall conduct other background investigations as authorized by law, designation, rule, regulation, or Executive Order.”
Oversight for DCSA will be conducted by the Security Executive Agent at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“The Secretary of Defense shall design, develop, deploy, operate, secure, defend, and continuously update and modernize, as necessary, information technology systems that support all personnel vetting processes conducted by the Department of Defense,” states the order.
The Pentagon is expected to report to the president, in coordination with OPM and the Office of Management and Budget, by June 24 on the status of the transition with updates every 180 days after that.
The NBIB reported in February a backlog of about 565,000 investigations.
“The executive branch has not finalized performance measures to ensure the quality of background investigations and some longstanding key reform initiatives remain incomplete. Further, information technology (IT) security concerns may delay planned milestones for the development of a new background investigation IT system,” the Government Accountability Office found in its March high-risk report to Congress. “…DOD is responsible for developing a new system to support background investigation processes, and DOD officials expressed concerns about the security of connecting to OPM’s legacy systems since a 2015 data breach compromised OPM’s background investigation systems and files for 21.5 million individuals. As of December 2018, OPM has not fully taken action on our priority recommendations to update its security plans, evaluate its security control assessments, and implement additional training opportunities.”