Senators ‘deeply concerned’ with background check agency’s progress


By:  Meredith Somers
Federal News Radio

Two senators are doubling down on their demand for answers about the new federal security clearance bureau.

Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) warned the Office of Personnel Management that timing and transparency are key to standing up the National Background Investigations Bureau, and OPM needs to deliver on both.

Tester and McCaskill sent a letter in May, asking OPM for information about the NBIB’s day-to-day operations, how inspectors general will have oversight authority of the agency and a timeline of key actions.

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“Our staff received a briefing from interagency officials but many questions remain unanswered and we have yet to receive any of the requested documentation,” the senators said in an Aug. 23 letter to acting OPM Director Beth Cobert. “Now, less than 60 days from OPM’s self-imposed deadline, we are deeply concerned that the most basic structures of the bureau — including an organizational leadership chart, physical location, or employee credentialing process — are not yet in place.”

The information requested in the letter includes:

Details on the development of an IT infrastructure and case management system to be used by NBIB.

An update on the existing backlogs in the background investigation system, overseen by OPM.

A detailed description of NBIB functions, which include the leadership and funding structure, location of offices, projected number of employees and the credentialing process that employees will use.

OPM spokesman Sam Schumach told Federal News Radio in an email that an official response to the senators’ questions “will be sent as soon as it’s complete.”

“OPM appreciates Senators Tester and McCaskill’s continued interest in the background investigations program and agree with them on its importance,” Schumach said. “OPM has been in touch with staff for both senators to keep them apprised of progress as the NBIB is established.”

The senators also warned OPM that delays and backlogs could put the NBIB on the Government Accountability Office’s High-Risk List.

“To prevent this, we strongly urge you and the interagency to keep OPM’s Office of Inspector General fully apprised of NBIB’s progress and work collaboratively with them to resolve outstanding issues,” the letter states.

OPM announced in January its plans to stand up the new agency and hire 400 more background check investigators for agencies with the highest demand for security clearances.

The number of overdue reinvestigations doubled over the course of fiscal 2015, according to a first-quarter update to Performance.gov. The Federal Investigative Services ended the year with 8,076 overdue investigations in its backlog, compared with 3,998 cases at the start of 2015.

The agency in March named James Onusko as the NBIB transition leader. Cobert has said the bureau will achieve initial operating capability by October 2016.

The senators requested a response by Sept. 6.