Transfer of Security Clearance Function to Department of Defense Might be Advantageous, But Could Cause Collateral DamagePosted by on

On April 24, 2019, President Trump issued an Executive Order that officially authorized the transfer of the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to the Department of Defense, a move which will be completed in phases. The DOD’s Defense Security Service (DSS) has been renamed the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). The DCSA will be the primary security clearance provider for the entire government, effective June 24, 2019, and will handle security clearances, continuous vetting, and insider threats, among other responsibilities. However, NBIB itself may continue to conduct background investigations on behalf of the DCSA until September 30, 2019.

According to the official statement from the Department of Defense, “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.”

Notably, the EO exempts DCSA employees from coverage under Title 5 Chapter 71, which establishes that “labor organizations and collective bargaining in the civil service are in the public interest.”  Thus, DCSA employees are prohibited from unionizing.  Furthermore, even though the EO indicates DCSA will cover the entire government, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is part of the new agency’s chain of command, it will not likely cover the intelligence agencies, many of which maintain their own clearance processes.

Attempting to bring uniformity (and hopefully true reciprocity) to the clearance process by consolidating most clearance functions within one Agency is a laudable goal. In conjunction with Continuous Evaluation, this should lead to a significant reduction in the amount of time required to process clearances.  However, the impact on the continued existence of OPM cannot be ignored. The decision to move these functions out of OPM (where there were placed in January 2016 when NBIB was created) and back to DOD is, arguably, a concrete step toward dismantling OPM.