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Background checks officially move to DOD

The National Background Investigations Bureau is now officially under the auspices of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA).

A senior Defense Department official told reporters during an Oct. 1 off-camera briefing that the handoff was completed during the last weekend in September with nearly 3,000 NBIB employees transferred from the Office of Personnel Management to DOD. Fewer than 10 personnel didn't make the transfer, opting to retire early, the DOD official said. All investigations and supporting contracts with NBIB have also been transferred.

Charles Phalen, who was NBIB's director, is now acting director of DCSA. The undersecretary of defense for intelligence is currently searching for a full-time head, but there's no timeline on finding a permanent director.

The bureau's relocation efforts followed the infamous OPM hack of personnel data, when Congress stipulated DOD take charge of its investigations functions from NBIB in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The move for DOD to fully take over background investigations was solidified with an April 2019 executive order.

For now, things are administratively different but physically the same, as NBIB employees are still located in the OPM building while DCSA is based in Quantico, Va.

With the changeover complete, the official said the agency plans to reduce the clearance backlog from its current level of more than 302,000 to around 200,000 by Jan. 1, 2020. However, that number won't hit zero, and 200,000 investigations is considered a steady state, the senior DOD official said.

"This could fluctuate up or down slightly depending on how things will change with what we think of as the clearance of the future," the official said, adding that "200,000 in the inventory at any given time gives us the work to do and the infrastructure in place to be able to meet those timeliness goals that we are all mandated to by law."

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