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NEWS | July 2, 2024

DISA director pledges to get government's background checking system on track

By C. Todd Lopez DOD News

The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, now responsible for conducting 95% of background investigations for the federal government, has struggled to get the National Background Investigation Services fully operational since taking over the role in 2020.

On Capitol Hill June 26, David Cattler, DCSA's director for just over 90 days, told members of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee's subcommittee on government operations and the federal workforce that he plans to get both DCSA and NBIS working to their full potential. 

"I'm committed to building a culture of accountability at DCSA that was lacking in the program," he said. "Simply and directly, the delay in fielding NBIS is unacceptable to everyone. Oversight from GAO [Government Accountability Office] and Congress are important parts of this ecosystem of accountability. As we move forward, we will be guided by what is in the best interest of national security and what is in the best interest of the taxpayer." 

The National Background Investigation Services is an information technology system meant to transform the process of conducting background investigations. It will eventually replace similar systems that no longer meet the needs of the U.S. government and will be a key component of what's billed as "Trusted Workforce 2.0," or TW 2.0, according to DCSA. 

"The NBIS program supports the TW 2.0 reform effort as a federal IT system for end-to-end personnel vetting," Cattler said. "When complete, NBIS will deliver robust data security, enhanced customer experience and integrate data access across the whole-of-government and cleared industry."

TW 2.0 is a "whole-of-government" effort to reform the personnel security process and establish a single vetting system for the federal government. The NBIS will serve as the backbone of TW 2.0, and will coordinate and connect the systems, interfaces and databases that support "continuous vetting" of government personnel — a process where the backgrounds of security cleared individuals are regularly reviewed to ensure they continue to meet security clearance requirements.

The NBIS system was meant to deploy in 2019, but it has not yet done so, and the Government Accountability Office has outlined in a variety of reports a handful of key problems that DCSA must address to move forward successfully with NBIS. 

"The GAO identified areas where DCSA and the Department of Defense needed to improve," Cattler said. "Even before I became DCSA's director ... I closely studied these reports and noted GAO's concerns. These recommendations do guide my focus and my direction as the director of DCSA. I have directed that we renew our focus on these recommendations, and we close the action items presented within them as soon as we can." 

Over the next 18 months, Cattler said, DCSA will prioritize five actions to advance delivery of NBIS. These actions include modernizing and migrating NBIS applications; aligning acquisition and development actions; adapting the NBIS workforce; aligning program cost and service pricing; and strengthening cybersecurity protections.

While NBIS continues in its development, Cattler said DCSA has upgraded and hardened legacy systems and continues to use and maintain them to deliver vetting services. 

Last year, Cattler said, DCSA's personnel vetting mission conducted 2.7 million investigations, or about 10,700 investigations per day; made 668,000 adjudicative decisions; and maintained continuous vetting of over 3.8 million people in the trusted workforce.