If there's one word Charlie Phalen wants you to associate with the new National Background Investigations Bureau, it's "trust."

Phalen, who was tapped as director of the new bureau in September, stressed that the pinnacle goal of the NBIB was to reestablish the confidence lost in the wake of the OPM hack, when speaking at the Professional Services Council's Vision Conference on Nov. 17.

"I've seen what a trusted workforce can accomplish," he said. "Keeping this country safe, keeping our place safe in the world and there's really nothing that can compare with this. Having said that, I've also seen what happens when something goes wrong and we see that trust betrayed."

A former director of security at the CIA, Phalen acknowledged some of the "trainwrecks" OPM has suffered recently in its background investigation capacity, both with the 2015 cyber breach and the 2013 Navy Yard shooting, which as a result caused the agency to terminate its contract with company USIS and perpetuated a processing backlog that hovered above 500,000 cases this fall.

To address the problem, Phalen mentioned two business processes launched by OPM and the Department of Defense to tackle the backlog, noting that performance of conducting these investigations would be paramount in his tenure.

"[The backlog] is not really the relevant number. The real relevant number is 40 or 80," he said. "That’s the number of days we are supposed to deliver either a secret or top secret clearance to somebody we adjudicate.

"Clearly, we are not meeting that. So I would argue that my backlog could be 5 million cases and nobody would care as long as I was still delivering that product in 40 or 80 days. So we are truly focused on what is the timeliness and how can we get back to our standard for getting these background investigations adjudicated. We are absolutely focused on that."

The other thing that NBIB is looking at as part of its business processes is whether there are new and more innovative ways to approach how background investigations are conducted.

"I think we have technology available — some of which is being used, most of which we have not exploited to the extent that we need to — to work on that stuff," he said.

Another issue Phalen said he is looking to tackle is reestablishing investigation reciprocity between federal agencies, another facet that will require reestablishing trust between partners, especially in the case of Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter.

"If we can get back to a point where we, as organizations, trust the work done by others, I think fundamentally what we are doing at NBIB is going to provide that basis for a consistent data collection of what it is that makes up some of this personality and trustworthiness, then I think we will be able to get back to where we can deal with this, but it’s not where it needs to be right now."

Moving forward, Phalen said he would like to make data sharing more consistent between agencies and will have an operational contract on Dec. 1 with 400 background investigation suppliers nationwide to help trim down the backlog.

NBIB has also hired 400 new federal investigators and could hire 200 more in 2017, Phalen said, if President-elect Trump doesn’t curb the allotment with a federal hiring freeze.

Among the benefits of the new bureau, Phalen said that NBIB is focused on using new technology to move the investigations process more quickly, its consolidation of both contracted and federal investigation management, dedicated privacy officers to protect information and a semi-autonomous authority that allows it to operate more nimbly.

The director said that the NBIB is currently working with the Defense Information Systems Agency to manage its current legacy systems as well as establish a more agile IT, which is expected to roll out in two or three years.

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