July 28, 2014
For close to two years the Defense Security Service (DSS) has been advising stakeholders about an upcoming change to how interim Secret clearance decisions will be made. It seems that they are now only a few months away from implementation.
An interim Secret clearance is “based on the completion of minimum investigative requirements.” It is granted on a “temporary basis, pending the completion of the full investigative requirements” for a Secret clearance and the adjudication of that investigation. The minimum requirements for interim Secret clearance for defense contractor personnel are the submission of a request for a National Agency Check with Law and Credit (NACLC) and the favorable review of the applicant’s Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86—SF86) and applicable security databases.
Among other functions, the DSS Personnel Security Management Office for Industry (PSMO-I) handles the Government’s front-end security clearance processing for defense contractor personnel covered under National Industrial Security Program (NISP). This function was previously handled by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) before DISCO was disestablished and reconstituted as part of the Industry Division of the DOD Consolidated Adjudications Facility (DOD CAF). PSMO-I grants interim clearances, but does not actually deny them. They simply do not grant an interim clearance when a potentially disqualifying condition exists. In the past the term “declined” was used in the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS) to indicate that an interim clearance was not granted; this has been replaced by the term, “Eligibility Pending.” This may seem like a meaningless distinction, but it matters when filling out an SF86. Section 25 of the SF86 asks if you have ever had a security clearance denied, suspended or revoked. Failure to receive an interim clearance or having an interim clearance withdrawn is not a denial, suspension, or revocation.
Generally PSMO-I has been able to make an interim Secret clearance determination and post that decision to the applicant’s Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS) record in about two working days after they receive an applicant’s SF86. There was a period between fall 2013 and spring 2014 when PSMO-I was terribly backlogged due to the Government shutdown and the lifting of the temporary moratorium on Period Reinvestigations.
Although there haven’t been any recent statistics published on the rate of interim Secret clearance approval; anecdotal information suggests about 70% to 80% of industrial applicants for initial clearances are granted interim Secret clearances.
In the past there was no time limit for interim clearances. A person could access classified information for years with only an interim clearance while waiting for a final clearance. According to a June 2013 DSS Webinar there will be a 12-month time limit for interim clearances, with the possibility of an additional six months based on a compelling need request.
The Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD-I) issued a memorandum, dated 27 January 2014, regarding new minimum requirements for interim secret clearances. These requirements went into effect on February 1, 2014 and will remain in effect until the issuance of DOD 5200.02-M, Volume 2, “DOD Personnel Security Program.”
The draft version of DOD 5200.02-M Volume II proposes the following standards for interim Secret clearance:
- Investigation is opened by the Investigations Service Provider
- Favorable review of completed SF86 by appropriate adjudicating authority
- Receipt of favorable FBI criminal history report (Advance fingerprint results)
- Review of applicable security databases and available records.
According to a June 2014 PSMO-I presentation at the National Classification Management Society conference, the new interim Secret clearance standards for industrial applicants will be almost identical to the standards for interim Top Secret clearances:
- Review SF86
- Investigation Scheduled
- Review National Databases
- Review Fingerprint results
Some of this process will be accomplished at OPM and the results will be electronically delivered to PSMO-I, where the other parts of the process will be completed, including the electronic adjudication of the case file. The requirement for OPM to deliver Advance fingerprint results to PSMO-I will probably add about a week to the process, so once the new process is implemented, it will take about seven business days before interim Secret eligibility or “eligibility pending” is posted to the applicant’s JPAS record.
What neither PSMO-I, nor USD-I mention is credit reports. The draft version of DOD 5200.02-M covers this with the words “available records.” Both Advance Fingerprint results and credit reports can be obtained by OPM within a day or two of opening an investigation. Consequently, the credit report can be available for electronically deliver to PSMO-I at the same time as the Advance Fingerprint results. Since more than 50% of all cases with potentially disqualifying information involve “Financial Considerations,” it makes no sense that PSMO-I would adjudicate for interim Secret clearance eligibility without considering the contents of a credit report.
Credit reports will probably be included in the adjudication of interim Secret clearances, and if they are, the approval rate will decline, possible as much as 10%. The Advance Fingerprint results could also cause the interim clearance approval rate to decline an additional 5%. But this will also result in fewer interim clearances being withdrawn after they’re granted.
Slightly longer processing times and a decline in the interim clearance approval rate coupled with the current effort to reduce the number of security clearances may have a significant impact on both large and small defense contractors. Many defense contractors rely heavily on interim clearances to quickly fill positions on new classified contracts. Some contractors have significant numbers of cleared personnel who are not currently assigned to work on classified contracts. In the coming months there will be audits of cleared personnel. People who have clearances, but don’t currently require access to classified information, may have their clearances terminated, thus reducing a ready pool of cleared personnel who can be assigned to new contracts. A recent report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) contained information that was particularly revealing. There are a little more than one million cleared contractors, but only about 87% of that number require access to classified information.
Defense contractors that rely heavily on interim clearances to hire new employees will need to provide their clearance applicants extra help in completing their SF86s. It is possible obtain an interim clearance even when potentially disqualifying issues exist. Mitigating these issues is more difficult for an interim clearance than it is for a final clearance, but it can be done for many issues.
By William H. Henderson
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