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Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) and Jon Tester (D-Montana) have written a letter to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that raises concerns about the transition of federal security clearance background checks from the old Federal Investigative Services (FIS) to a newly created agency called the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), according to a press release on Senator McCaskill’s website.

“We are concerned that this transition is moving forward without firm plans in place for the transition, operation and oversight of the new bureau,” the Senators wrote in the letter to OPM’s acting Director Beth Cobert. “We also want to ensure that the NBIB will not simply be a new name for the FIS. Instead, it is critical that you make significant structural changes to improve the integrity, management and oversight of the security clearance process.”

In the letter dated May 18, 2016, the Senators ask the OPM to provide the following information about the creation of the NBIB to them as soon as possible and no later than June 17, 2016:

  • A detailed description of plans for establishing the NBIB.
  • Documents sufficient to show how the NBIB’s purpose and day-to-day operations will differ from FIS.
  • Information on the development of an IT infrastructure and case management system.
  • An explanation of what independent authorities the NBIB will have (e.g. hiring, contracting, etc.) and whether the bureau will rely on OPM or other agencies for those services.
  • An explanation of what background investigation policy changes are expected from FIS to NBIB and why those changes were proposed.
  • An explanation of which inspectors general will have oversight authority over all aspects of NBIB, including development of the bureau’s IT infrastructure.
  • A description of how the bureau plans to resolve existing backlogs in the background check system once a five-year reinvestigation requirement is implemented for all persons with a security clearance.

McCaskill recently introduced legislation to give the Pentagon’s top watchdog the authority to conduct oversight of the NBIB, which will manage security clearance background checks that have been plagued by backlogs and security concerns that included a major cyberattack in 2014. Tester and McCaskill also introduced bipartisan legislation to increase accountability and oversight of background checks for individuals who can access secure facilities.

As reported by ESR News in January 2016, the U.S. government announced the creation of the NBIB to modernize and strengthen the way Federal background checks are conducted and sensitive data protected. The NBIB will be housed within the OPM and headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Department of Defense (DoD) will assume responsibility for the design, development, security, and operation of IT systems for the NBIB.

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