The Department of Defense will have full responsibility for conducting background investigations of federal employees and contractors, under an executive order signed by President Donald Trump April 24.
The Trump administration has long telegraphed the transfer, as background investigations for DoD personnel were already assigned to the Pentagon under the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2018, and officials maintained that transferring the whole process to one agency would be more efficient.
“Implementing that legislative mandate while retaining the benefit of economies of scale in addressing the federal government's background investigations workload, avoiding unnecessary risk, promoting the ongoing alignment of efforts with respect to vetting federal employees and contractors, and facilitating needed reforms in this critical area requires that the primary responsibility for conducting background investigations government-wide be transferred from the Office of Personnel Management to the Department of Defense,” Trump wrote in the executive order.
The order also mandates that the Defense Security Service, which began the process of taking over security clearance IT systems from the Defense Information Systems Agency in March, change its name to the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency.
According to the order, the change requires that “no later than June 24, the DCSA shall serve as the primary entity for conducting effective, efficient and secure background investigations for the federal government for determining whether covered individuals are or continue to be eligible for access to classified information or eligible to hold a sensitive position."
The federal government has long struggled with a security clearance investigation backlog, which was listed on the Government Accountability Office’s list of systems most susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse.
The Trump administration has previously listed the transfer of background investigation services away from the Office of Personnel Management’s National Background Investigation Bureau to the DoD as the beginning of breaking apart OPM entirely into other agencies.
The move has drawn criticism from federal employee groups as an attempt to politicize the civil service.
Trump’s executive order also places the responsibility for background investigation IT systems in the hands of the secretary of defense, who will be required to oversee work to “design, develop, deploy, operate, secure, defend, and continuously update and modernize” such systems.
DoD and OPM leadership will also be responsible for coordinating the transition of operations, including the designation of background investigation personnel to the Pentagon.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.