Air Force creates solutions to help tackle massive security clearance backlog

The US Air Force is currently working with two federal agencies in order to try and speed along their controversially high backlog of pending security clearances.

When news broke last month that the USAF had over 79,000 people waiting on background checks last month, it became apparent that something needed to be done.

“Our biggest challenge with security clearances is getting them through it in the first place,” USAF Secretary Heather Wilson said in March.

While the Office of Personnel Management and the National Background Investigations Bureau were tapped to work with the background check operation, the Air Force has only recently gotten to work with the two agencies in order to get the ball rolling.

Air Force spokeswoman Major Kathleen Atanasoff said the Air Force, NBIB and OPM are establishing centralized interview hubs, as well as prioritizing background checks by urgency and needs of the Air Force.

“So far, hubs have been established at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Joint Base San Antonio and Tidewater, Virginia,” Atanasoff said. “The NBIB is surging investigators to other Air Force bases with high caseloads, such as Hill Air Force Base in Utah, Warner Robins in Georgia, and several bases in the surrounding Los Angeles area. Several more hubs and surges are planned for later this year. Beginning in January 2018, the NBIB trained Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents to conduct background investigations at overseas locations where there is a high concentration of case work, but a limited pool of NBIB investigators.”

The three agencies are now working to speed up the process by establishing new concepts, to include video chat interviews for Secret-level clearances and airmen in remote locales.

For the Air Force, the “hubs” are a godsend, as they can conduct interviews more efficiently in more locations.

“We don’t do the security clearance background checks ourselves; there’s a process through the Office of Personnel Management and the backlog has gone up from 48,000 to 79,000 in the Air Force,” Wilson said. “We are partnering with them and putting in hubs for the interviews. We’ve asked them to change their processes to be able to do interviews over Skype rather than person to person. It’s a major issue for all of the services.”

According to Federal News Radio, the current OPM backlog is around 700,000, taking about 500 days to get a top secret clearance and 260 days to get a secret clearance.

The US Government is currently looking at more efficient ways to perform background checks.

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