The Security Clearance Applicant Loses in the DSS vs. NBIB Debate

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The congressional push for a return to the “old days” when the Defense Security Service conducted all of the background investigations for the DoD prompted various news outlets (Federal News Radio, FedSmith, Government Executive) to weigh in. Even the Office of Personnel Management (parent of NBIB), which remained out of the fray for much of…


The next few years ought to be a big cluster-f as they transition employees/duties.

The backlog is going to get worse before it gets better.

Wow . . . Really? The agencies who have allowed the backlog and other problems to grow are backing the status quo?

That’s really surprising . . . No . . . Wait . . . the other thing . . .

2015: “It always gets worse before it gets better”
2016: “We’re at around 500k cases, but uh, things are always worse before they get better”
2017 3rd quarter: “We are at 700k cases, pretty good compared to last quarter!”
2018: “This isn’t going to go as smoothly as we thought, huh?”

On a serious note, I’d like to imagine the transition for fed employees will be an administrative mess, but not too bad. Not even concerned about the contractors’ transition, though interested to see retention rates (the big elephant in the room no one talks about) for a DSS operation

History repeating itself once more.

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From what I hear from feds the transition from to OPM was smooth as pie. Wondering how it’s gonna work now because NBIB needs to retain a workforce for non DOD work. The feds have been hiring like crazy in the past year.

In a bit of bitter irony, new Secret clearances seem to have gotten back down to the 3-6 month time frame, based on limited anecdotal evidence. Folks caught in the backlog are still lingering but at least new applications are being processed in a more reasonable amount of time.

And don’t forget, if DSS (or some newly minted DoD agency) does take over the DoD piece of investigations, then they will need to set up all those field offices and resident offices and regional offices and district headquarters etc etc etc. So that’s a lot of time energy and effort (not to mention expense) that will not directly address the massive backlog. Might even slow down those new investigations.

NBIB is the only a agency responsible for clearing the backlog. At some point DSS is supposed to take over new cases, but DSS won’t go within 10 feet of that backlog which is sitting at approximately 800,000 cases. Still and all, federal employees are much more expensive to the government than awarding the “pay for production” contracts. I’m very curious to know how federal employees will fit into the puzzle after all the chips have fallen.

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Wow that is very interesting. So DSS will get to look like a rock star while NBIB continues to struggle!

I suppose there are still some investigators with NBIB who started out with DIS/DSS, wonder if they will be offered a chance to jump back. Also, I do not recall DSS using many contract investigators; that was a legacy OPM thing. I think they will have to bring on contractors because you know how long it takes to hire feds.

Good luck retaining quality people. Because no one likes to stay around long enough. DOD or not, it’s a problem.

"As the backlog has grown, NBIB has taken steps to increase its capacity
to conduct background investigations by increasing its own investigator
staff as well as awarding new contracts, effective in December 2016, to
four contractors for investigation fieldwork services. NBIB officials said
that NBIB has a goal to increase its total number of investigators—federal
employees and contractors—to about 7,200 by the end of fiscal year
2017. Specifically, to help address the backlog, NBIB officials reported
that NBIB increased its authorized federal investigator workforce by
adding 400 federal investigator positions in fiscal year 2016 and 200
positions in fiscal year 2017—an increase from 1,375 to 1,975 authorized
positions.123 As of July 2017, NBIB had filled 1,620 of the 1,975 positions,
and 1,513 of its federal investigators were fully trained. NBIB officials
explained that they do not plan to increase the federal investigator
capacity beyond the currently approved 1,975 because they do not have
the ability to absorb more staff. According to the officials, new
investigators must be trained by experienced investigators which reduces
the amount of time the experienced investigators have to conduct
investigative work. When estimating federal investigator capacity, NBIB
assumes it will have 277 full-time equivalent vacancies at any given time
due to high attrition rates. Further, NBIB officials could not project the
federal investigator workforce past April 2018 due to high attrition rates.
Given challenges with increasing its federal investigative staff, NBIB
continues to rely on contractors to conduct the majority of investigations.
NBIB officials noted that contractors perform about 60 percent of NBIB’s
total investigative cases. OPM awarded four new investigative fieldwork
services contracts that became effective in December 2016—two to
incumbent contractors and two to new vendors. In July 2017, OPM
officials told us that the contractor and federal staff capacity they currently
possess enables them to complete a sufficient number of investigations to
prevent the number of pending investigations from increasing further.
However, they acknowledged that the four contracts and federal
investigator staff do not currently provide OPM enough capacity to reduce
the pending number of investigations to the “healthy” inventory level of
180,000 cases.
NBIB officials have conducted analyses to determine how changes in the
total number of investigators could affect the backlog over time,
accounting for current and projected investigator capacity, prior time
studies, historical data, geographic location, and other factors.
Specifically, NBIB officials assessed four scenarios, from the status quo—
assuming no additional contractor or federal investigator hires—to an
aggressive contractor staffing plan beyond January 2018, but in July 2017
they determined that the aggressive plan was not feasible. The two
scenarios that NBIB identified as most feasible would not result in a
“healthy” inventory level until fiscal year 2022 at the earliest. For example,
under one scenario, each contractor would increase investigator capacity
under current staffing projections through early 2018. Assuming that the
contractors adhere to these projections, NBIB would have the capacity to
address incoming cases and begin to reduce the backlog, but the backlog
would not reach a “healthy” inventory level until sometime after fiscal year
2022. However, NBIB leadership has not determined whether the costs
and benefits of any one scenario are preferable to the costs and benefits
of the others.

I’d like to see contractor numbers and strategies.

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I’d also like to know what they consider to be “high attrition.” 10%? 20%? What is ‘normal’ attrition?

loss - 277
force level - 1975
277/1975 = approximately 14%.

That is using the numbers listed in the article.

Not sure that is exactly the attrition rate but its probably a good approximation. I also just noticed where they said only about 1500 of that 1975 is fully trained.

Assuming the attrition is about 15% that does sound pretty high to me. One might almost call it unsustainable. For Walmart or McDonalds, it would be a great number, I’m sure their turnover is much higher. But for a job where it takes a year just to get hired and then probably at least a year before someone is minimally qualified to operate independently, its awful.

Thing is, cases are expedited for investigative staff. It does, however, take about six months to a year for someone to have an idea of what they’re doing. People are on their own after a few weeks of training and a minimal amount of time with some sort of mentor or field training officer. It’s not a traditional support structure, which I think only adds to attrition. There’s no reporting to a satellite or field office. Investigators live in their own little island from the get-go, so it takes a certain kind of individual to be able to sustain that sort of stressful independence for so long.

Thing is, there are so many investigative staff being hired that everything becomes and expedite. So when everything is an expedite…nothing is an expedite. In turn is created a negative marginal output and, from my personal perspective, contributes the the backlog. Considering it takes about a year for a new hire to actually create enough output-add in a 15% attrition rate-the efforts reduce the backlog almost seems futile. Ultimately it fares well for an experienced investigator because we’ll have job security for a long time to come.

After the latest pow wow between NBIB and DSS, DSS says it will take more than the forecasted three years to transition the program.

The transition time is now undetermined.


From what I’ve see, the attrition rate for new hires staying on is even worse. Yikes.

That’s probably because the feds have opened up so many new jobs that the contractors are jumping ship to get the shiny gold badge. Concurrently, the feds are doing all the contractor new hire expedite cases and that backlog just keeps growing. In the meantime the feds send the contractors for six weeks of in class training, and more field training when they complete class, and so grows the backlog.

Funny thing, we can’t get contractors hired. They don’t make the cert, have to be a former fed or disabled vet to get through.

I am mistaken about that. In my class at FBITP there were only three of us (former contractors).

I am a former contractor - and vet. All of the NBIB agents in my Org are former contractors.

A lot of the former vets/NBIB contractors I know are not willing to take the huge pay cut to GS7 to restart with NBIB.