The Department of Defense’s Defense Security Service has been rebranded as the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, the agencies announced June 24. The change comes as part of preparations to move the federal government’s background investigation functions out of the Office of Personnel Management and into the DoD.
DSS had previously been responsible for the industrial security mission of the federal government with a workforce of about 2,000 personnel, and those operations will continue under the new DCSA, a senior defense official told reporters at a June 24 roundtable.
Over the next three months, DoD and OPM plan to set up a transfer of all personnel currently working at the National Background Investigations Bureau — currently a part of OPM — to DCSA.
“We are on the early stages of executing a very detailed plan to transfer NBIB personnel, assets and resources to DoD, to DCSA. These transfers will be completed by Oct. 1,” the senior defense official said.
As part of that transfer, Charles Phalen, who currently serves as the director of NBIB, will take over as acting director of DCSA and will hold a dual appointment between the DoD and OPM until a permanent DCSA director is named.
“On the 29th of September, right before the beginning of the fiscal year, all of the NBIB staff employees will become DoD employees,” a senior administration official said at the June 24 roundtable. “We believe that this is going to be pretty seamless.”
According to that official, though employees will be moved under DoD authority, they will by and large have the same work experience they did prior to the transition to DCSA.
“Other than maybe one person who’s going to spend a lot of time driving between Quantico and downtown Washington, everybody should be working where they’re working today and, except for a handful of leadership positions, working for the person they’re working for today,” the administration official said.
Employees will move from positions covered under Title 5 of U.S. Code to positions covered under Title 10, but the defense official said that past experience with such transitions within the DoD has shown that it shouldn’t cause too much turmoil.
“We’re fortunate that we’re involved in this process with the part of the government that runs personnel: OPM. So we have all the right people that understand personnel systems,” the defense official said.
“All folks that have competitive service tenure where they sit now will retain that. There’s new opportunities for folks in excepted service that may not have been as available to them before.”
While the official, legal transfer of NBIB functions to DCSA will occur Oct. 1, the transition period of fully merging the two organizations is expected to take a year or two longer.
But according to both the defense and administration officials, the priority during the transition will be to “not do anything to harm the progress that is being made right now” on the security clearance backlog.
At its peak in early 2018, the backlog reached 725,000 cases, but according to the administration official, it currently sits at 410,000 and NBIB aims to get to a 300,000 case backlog by the time of the transition.
The new, DoD-located background investigation office will temporarily still rely on OPM information technology systems, while the Pentagon continues work on the National Background Investigation Services, which is designed to replace the old systems.
“We’re working that transition plan right now. We’re OK with some degree of redundancy, probably over the next couple of years, and it will take us a good portion of that time to fully mature the DoD architecture, where we will be moving it,” the defense official said.
That transition from OPM to DoD IT systems has formed a large part of the Trump administration’s justification for breaking apart and moving OPM’s functions to other agencies, as the federal employee retirement system — which uses the same infrastructure as the current background investigations — would lose part of its funding source in the NBIB transfer.
The defense official said that the DoD would continue to use OPM’s systems “for some months” after the official transfer in October.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.