The White House announced Friday plans to relieve the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) of the duties of conducting security clearances, giving these duties instead to a brand new agency, the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB).

OPM conducts some 600,000 security clearance investigations and 400,000 suitability investigations each year. But under the new NBIB, sensitive background investigation documents will be stored and secured on Defense Department systems, according to an announcement by OPM.

The announcement follows MeriTalk’s breaking story on Dec. 7, which revealed insider rumblings of such a change.

OPM has been under fire since it experienced a massive data breach last year that compromised the background investigations on more than 21 million current and former Federal employees, due to what experts called “a lack of infrastructure, capabilities, and resources.”

OPM’s problems are systemic, said former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence & Research Randall Fort in the Dec. 7 MeriTalk story. “While the private sector is able to assess risk for millions of customers in a matter of seconds, the government security clearance system is mired in 1950s processes,” he said.

OPM officials acknowledged the need for change. “As the world’s technologies continue to evolve and our economy becomes ever more digitally connected, the Federal government’s tools, systems, and processes for managing such sensitive information and conducting background investigations must keep pace with these advancements,” they said.

The Federal government hopes the new security clearance agency will be able “to better anticipate, detect, and counter malicious activities–as well as threats posed by trusted insiders–who may seek to do harm to the government’s personnel, property, and information systems,” they said.

Following last year’s breaches at OPM, the interagency Performance Accountability Council (PAC) conducted an investigation of the security clearance process. The council recently released results of the investigation, and determined the need for the new security clearance agency.

NBIB will report to the OPM director, but unlike the previous structure, the Department of Defense will assume responsibility for the design, development, security, and operation of the background investigations IT systems for the new entity.

The head of NBIB will be appointed by the president, and the agency will be headquartered in Washington, D.C. A cadre of interagency personnel will help stand up the new agency and be part of its ongoing management, according to OPM.

The Federal government will leverage existing expertise, resources, and a well-established framework for providing governmentwide services, OPM officials said.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, said in a statement released Friday that the announcement appeared to be aimed primarily at fixing a perception problem rather than tackling real reform. “Simply creating a new government entity doesn’t solve the problem,” Chaffetz said. “The administration needs to undertake meaningful reforms to protect citizens’ most sensitive personal information. Protecting this information should be a core competency of OPM, the government’s human resources agency.”


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Diana Manos