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WASHINGTON - Stephen Benowitz, Associate Director for Human Resources Products and Services for the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) today testified before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform on security background clearances and investigations.
"I am pleased to testify today on behalf of Director Kay Coles James," Benowitz said. "The background investigation process is a vital part of our national security efforts, helping ensure that employees and contractors who work for the Federal Government possess the loyalty, experience, training, and skills that our citizens expect and deserve and pose no risk to national security or public trust."
Under the leadership of Director James, OPM has made personnel background investigations a high priority for all Federal agencies. OPM conducts background investigations for many Federal agencies and provides a variety of investigative services, ranging from the basic investigations to determine if individuals are suitable for positions that do not require security clearances, to those for positions which are among the most sensitive in Government. The current pending workload of investigations is approximately 340,000 cases, many of which are in process.
"The total national resources for conducting background investigations for Federal agencies are stretched at the current time as a result of the increases we've experienced since Fiscal Year 2002. Demand for background checks exceeds capacity of the private sector companies that provide these services," Benowitz added. "Under Director James' leadership, we have issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to increase the number of qualified contractor staff to conduct investigations. National capacity has been an issue the Director has consistently raised, in addition to strong reservations she has regarding the lack of a large base of qualified competition in the investigative industry. In 1996, it took only 450 field investigators to perform the work. Today, OPM uses 2,500 field investigators and will increase its resources substantially when this contract is awarded."
Since the late 1990s, OPM has performed a substantial number of background investigations for the Department of Defense to assist in efforts to reduce a significant backlog in their reinvestigation program.
"As part of the Defense Authorization Act of 2004, legislation was enacted that would permit the Director of OPM, at her discretion, to accept a transfer of function of the Department of Defense (DOD) Defense Security Service (DSS) investigative staff," Benowitz continued. "Director James has not yet determined whether she will accept this transfer. In February 2004, Director James agreed to provide pending case management and automated processing services for background investigation program. Under this agreement, DSS staff prioritizes their incoming workloads and forwards investigations to OPM to be scheduled through our automated case management system, the Personnel Investigation Processing System (PIPS)."
Staff from OPM, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and DSS will be measuring DSS performance and evaluating cost implications of the transfer. The evaluation will review performance through June and again through September.
PIPS is a contemporary system that assists OPM in managing the flow and review of the casework, from the initial logging in and assignment of cases, to the online input of field investigation work, to the close-out to our agency clients and the tracking of agency adjudication decisions. As a sign of teamwork and mutual concern, OPM began providing training to DSS staff in advance of the formal interagency Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year. All DSS investigative staff are expected to complete training ahead of the original schedule of June 30, and will be able to manage all new cases on PIPS. Through this configuration, DSS retains responsibility for their core workloads but strengthens their efficiency and cost effectiveness by using OPM's proven high volume automated processing system.
For more information or copies of Benowitz's testimony, please contact the OPM Office of Communications at 202-606-2402.
Our mission is to Recruit, Retain and Honor a World-Class Workforce to Serve the American People. OPM supports U.S. agencies with personnel services and policy leadership including staffing tools, guidance on labor-management relations and programs to improve work force performance.