Senators Raise Concerns About OPM Taking Background Check Database Offline

By on July 3, 2015 in Current Events with 4 Comments
Image of Senators Mark Warner and Time Kaine

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA)

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) recently sent a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta expressing concerns about the agency’s move to take its background check database offline for 4-6 weeks.

The Senators said they were glad OPM was taking a proactive approach to the security vulnerability discovered within the database, but questioned how OPM was going to handle the backlog of security clearances in the interim.

OPM conducts 95 percent of the federal government’s background investigations for new and existing federal employees and contractors across more than 100 agencies. Last year, OPM completed more than one million background investigations.

In response to criticism such as what the Senators put forth in their letter, OPM announced an interim solution late Thursday for handling the security clearance process while the database is offline: the government can start vetting employees on paper.

A copy of the Senators’ letter is included below.

July 1, 2015

The Honorable Katherine Archuleta
Director
U.S. Office of Personnel Management
1900 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20415-1000

Dear Director Archuleta:

We write today to express concern with the recent announcement by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that it has temporarily shut down the e-QIP website that facilitates processing of background investigations.  While we applaud the appropriate caution OPM has employed to address potential vulnerabilities with the e-QIP system, we also believe the agency must do more to ensure that day-to-day operations proceed in the professional and expeditious manner we should expect from the federal agency responsible for personnel matters.  In addition, we urge that OPM do all it can to not exacerbate processing backlogs that are currently in place.

OPM reports that 20,000 to 30,000 background checks are submitted to Federal Investigative Services every week, while at the same time acknowledging that they already have a backlog in processing these submissions.  With the e-QIP system now reportedly down for at least four to six weeks, it will cause significant disruption to the process through which information is submitted to allow OPM to process security clearances.  Although the time that e-QIP is offline will allow OPM to address the current backlog, that down time will also mean additional submissions will continue to pile up, exacerbating the problem when e-QIP is brought back online.

Although OPM has noted that it is working on alternative measures to address this looming crisis, it has failed to provide any detail as to its strategy that will give adequate assurance to the thousands of Virginians who depend on having proper security credentials in place to do their jobs.  We therefore ask for a response to the following questions:

1.      What is the current backlog for security clearances, and what measure thus far have been used to address that backlog?

2.      How will the e-QIP system’s deactivation affect the current backlog?

3.      What specific plans has OPM developed for alternative processing while e-QIP is deactivated?

4.      What resources does OPM need to address this issue?

As you know, security clearances are vitally important to the federal and defense contracting workforce in Virginia.  When they cannot be processed in a timely manner, it creates a ripple effect that has numerous consequences for our country’s national security and for Virginia’s workforce.  We look forward to a timely response to this letter and hearing an action plan from your agency to address this pressing issue.  Thank you for your attention to this issue.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner
U.S. Senator

Tim Kaine
U.S. Senator

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce. Ian also has a background in web development and does the technical work for the FedSmith.com web site and its sibling sites.

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