Investigations Come in Predictable Waves: Are You Prepared for the Next One?

By Diem Vo


The holidays are here and things are finally unwinding after a long tumultuous year that saw an election, Congressional continuing resolution, significant nation state-sponsored data penetrations and the implementation of NISPOM Conforming Change 2. What could possibly be next? A tsunami of security clearance investigations!

How many? 
Per the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's 2015 Annual Report on Security Clearance Determinations (published June 2016) some 4.3 million people hold clearances, of these 1.3 million are at the Top Secret Level. In 2015, almost 640 thousand new clearances were granted. These clearances are granted or renewed cyclically. Investigations follow seasonal hiring trends for students coming onboard for summer internships, new hires fresh out of school, Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season for US Government employees posted abroad and the last-minute rush to get ahead of a much reported hiring freeze entertained by the incoming administration.

It’s a Brave New World.
Long gone are the days of investigators canvassing your childhood neighborhood for signs of miscreant behavior that suggest an ill suitability against the 13 adjudicative guidelines. Modern vetting procedures in personnel security investigations now include social media! The May 2016 Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 5 permits agencies to collect and evaluate publicly available social media information to determine eligibility for clearances. Suddenly, Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, MySpace (is that even a thing anymore?), Twitter, etc. becames part of the g-mens’ file. With an increasingly younger and more connected national security workforce, the social media footprint is a significant investigative burden.

What can you do?
As you rest easy this holiday season, dozing off to gluhwein and eggnog, you should know that late winter begins the clearance wave for the spring/summer internship hires, followed by the summer PCS wave, then the college hiring wave…does it ever end? 

Here are some ways to prepare for and manage the rising tide:

  • Error proof the eQIP/SF86: any time spent processing incomplete or incorrectly filled inbound forms hobbles the entire process!
  • Optimize your staff workflow to minimize slack time. Is your staffing plan elastic enough to absorb the cyclical clearance bursts? Why does it take weeks for the people person guy to take the specs from the customers to the engineers?

Click here to learn how to model workload scenarios using Excel

  • Eliminate waste: are there stages in your workflow that add no value to the final product? Who even reads these TPS reports...and did you remember to place a cover sheet on them? Do you have a plan to find these time margin-sucking maggots and squish them? Try value stream mapping to identify the steps in your process that add value (and those that don't).
  • Control your process. Don't wait until you find yourself knee-deep in a backlog of unprocessed packets to realize that your process can't accommodate a seasonal surge. Make sure that the metrics you track on an ongoing basis include plenty of leading indicators to raise a red flag when volume begins to pick up --while you still have time to do something about it. 

Download Big Sky's Executive Guide To Running a World-Class Security Program