Massive USAF security clearance backlog exposed, 79,000 airman waiting on applications

Photo by Staff Sgt. Julio Olivencia Jr

The US Air Force is so backlogged with security clearances that they may be seeking help from the US Office of Personnel Management, an effort to relieve the USAF of some of the over 79,000 pending applications.

USAF Secretary Heather Wilson reported to the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on March 14, noting that the number of security clearances has nearly doubled in 18 months.

“Our biggest challenge with security clearances is getting them through it in the first place,” Wilson.

In addition to OPM, the USAF is currently working with the newly-formed National Background Investigations Bureau to speed things along.

“We don’t do the security clearance background checks ourselves, there’s a process through the Office of Personnel Management and the backlog has gone up from 48,000 to 79,000 in the Air Force,” Wilson said. “We are partnering with them and putting in hubs for the interviews, we’ve asked them to change their processes to be able to do interviews over Skype rather than person to person. It’s a major issue for all of the services.”

According to Federal News Radio, Congress made provisions to give the Department of Defense authority over its own security clearances in the 2018 Defense Authorization Act, but the three-year transition is slowing matters down.

Merton Miller, the former deputy director of NBIB, and former associate director for OPM’s Federal Investigative Services, said the transition would be messy and take too much time.

“That’s three more years of doubt that the federal government is going to be experiencing within the background investigative program. If I was working as the deputy director of NBIB now and I’m onboarding resources, knowing that DoD is going to take over in three years, I’m going to focus on the other [non-DoD clearances.] I’m going to focus on the customers I’m going to have long-term … You can’t take three years to effectively transition this program. You can, but it won’t be done the right way,” Miller said. “Three years is a long time. When has any plan lasted three years and been done right? The contractors are going to be in doubt as to who they are going to be working for in the future. Are they going to throw all their eggs in the DoD basket? Are they going to shortchange OPM on the resources they need?”

As the number of needed clearances continues to rise, all three government agencies continue to look for solutions.

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