The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency could be ready to take another step in reforming the government’s personnel vetting process, a top national security official said this week, now that the agency has surpassed its target for reducing the backlog in background investigations.
An “aggressive” effort has led to a nearly 17% increase in processing of new security clearances, year-over-year, said Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. That progress has led DSCA to consider what else it can do to maintain momentum, he said.
DSCA set a goal in December to reach a “steady target state” of 200,000 cases pending — a number that would represent a significant improvement in the speed for hiring workers — like many information technology specialists — who need security clearances. The agency is ahead of the goal.
“We are now approaching 180,000 [cases] in the inventory backlog right now, which is unheard of — probably haven’t seen those numbers for a decade,” Evanina said during an Intelligence & National Security Alliance conversation Wednesday.
That number is down from about 725,000 cases in April 2018.
Both DCSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence manage continuous evaluation systems (CES) that automate record checks. ODNI’s CES automatically flags records in seven federally required data categories, and the office had enrolled about 300,000 employees and contractors across 26 agencies as of January.
The CES technology is the cornerstone of the Trusted Workforce 2.0 vetting reform effort, the first IT-fueled overhaul of the process.
Trusted Workforce 2.0 not only aims to reduce the background investigation backlog but introduce new investigative standards and adjudicative guidelines expected later this year for 2022. A position designation tool and electronic applications are also in the works, while DSCA develops artificial intelligence to further expedite the clearance process. Some officials see a future where the process reaches unheard-of speeds: Security clearances should be issued in three days, said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, at the Dell Technologies Forum in September.
The Trusted Workforce 2.0 executive steering group meets again Friday.
“Now might be the time to enhance 2.0 and say, ‘What would 2.5 and 3.0 look like?’” Evanina said.