DCSA opens ‘gateway’ to next-generation background investigation system

The “gateway” to the National Background Investigation Services software program is open, with a new portal for submitting operational security clearance requests, according to the NBIS program manager.

The introduction of e-App is a key development in an NBIS software project that is seen as the cornerstone of federal personnel screening reforms.

Jeff Smith, executive manager of the NBIS program at the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, says the e-App software has…

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The “gateway” to the National Background Investigation Services software program is open, with a new portal for submitting operational security clearance requests, according to the NBIS program manager.

The introduction of e-App is a key development in an NBIS software project that is seen as the cornerstone of federal personnel screening reforms.

Jeff Smith, executive manager of the NBIS program at the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, said the e-App software has successfully gone through a pilot phase that began late last year. About 65 agencies now use e-App to submit background investigation cases, Smith told Inside the IC. The new software has processed around 3,300 cases so far.

The e-App software replaces the old system of “electronic questionnaires for survey processing (e-QIP)”. The new interface is intended to be more user-friendly and modern than e-QIP systems for those submitting standard forms for federal job screening.

“The beauty of the e-App is that it’s a much more robust and intuitive front-end,” Smith said. “It has built-in logic for error checking and correction.”

Where errors in manual applications and even the online e-QIP form could often lead to lengthy correction processes, the e-App was designed to not allow applicants to move forward until they did not submit the information correctly, Smith said.

“This removes much of the error up front, reducing any turnaround time or back and forth, ultimately speeding up applicants’ request for clearance and/or periodic re-survey for future deferral in ongoing monitoring. “Smith said.

Ultimately, the NBIS aims to replace seven legacy systems with one end-to-end integrated system to streamline the security clearance process for the vast majority of agencies, making the e-App case initiation system a crucial part of the effort.

“Every case submitted through the NBIS gateway is one less case that will be submitted in e-QIP,” Smith said. “So through a natural process of growing and maturing, the reliance on these inherited systems eventually starts to go the other way, down, to a point where we get mature enough to start to look for opportunities to end these systems.”

“The foot does not come off the accelerator pedal”

The NBIS project has seen many twists and turns since the initial design of the new IT system following the 2015 revelation that the Office of Personnel Management’s old background investigation system was hacked.

When several security clearance functions were merged into the new DCSA in 2019, officials took a hard look at a software replacement project that was struggling to meet its schedule and get off the ground.

By then, DCSA had managed to reduce a huge backlog of background investigations to a manageable level, and officials began to pay more attention to the future of the personnel vetting process as part of of an initiative called “Trusted Workforce”. 2.0. »

“NBIS was the question of the day,” Smith said.

After DCSA took over the software program from the Defense Information Systems Agency, officials redefined the project, setting a new goal for fiscal year 2023 to retire legacy systems with the new suite of NBIS capabilities.

Since the reset, the program has shifted to an “agile” strategy in which it gradually releases new software, building on features over time.

Smith says the program has scheduled quarterly releases, as well as “point releases” to address any potential issues that arise in the software. Peraton is the prime contractor working on NBIS.

“There’s constant activity, software being added, infrastructure being added, with the goal of maturing the system so mission owners can pick up the slack and start using and operationalizing it,” Smith said.

But COVID-19 has presented the program with one of its biggest challenges since the calendar reset, Smith said.

In addition to the e-App and other case management capabilities, a key feature of the NBIS is the “continuous verification” software to automatically flag potential issues with authorized persons, such as an arrest or suspicious financial transaction. , which could put their clearance status at risk.

Implementing an automated records verification system requires a close working relationship between DCSA and client agencies that use NBIS services.

“If they’re not necessarily back in the offices in secure arenas, or if their documentation to establish these automated record checks isn’t up to date, that can impact your development cycle,” said Smith.

“So while an agency with a great team can continue to manage through COVID, not everyone is equal. . . The challenges start to hit your schedule when you’re dependent on outside agencies, both from a documentation standpoint, from a technical exchange standpoint, and then from a information access standpoint,” Smith said. .

Still, Smith said the NBIS program is still targeting fiscal year 2023 to retire legacy background investigation systems.

“As long as we identify and manage risk, and maybe even accept some risk as we build this, I think we can achieve our goals,” Smith said. “We think we’re on the right track and we’re not giving up our foot so we don’t release the accelerator pedal for exercise 23.”

“Much more robust ability”

Last fall, DCSA had reached the “Trusted Workforce 1.25” milestone by enrolling all 3.6 million authorized Department of Defense personnel, civilians, and contractors into an initial system of three automated personnel checks. “high value” records, including criminal activity.

The DCSA is expanding the alerts system to seven different record types as part of the “Trusted Workforce 1.5” milestone this fall.

Meanwhile, the NBIS program is laying the groundwork for a “Trusted Workforce 2.0” system that includes up to 26 different types of automated records checks.

NBIS will provide a “much more robust capability to provide end-to-end enterprise support for ongoing verification,” Smith said. “But it’s a very deliberate and methodical approach. You have to mature your technology, you have to put yourself in the hands of the users and let them feel comfortable. And then pair them with organizations and agencies simultaneously, and then start allowing the thing to grow in terms of functionality and security.

Until now, continuous monitoring has largely replaced the need to conduct “periodic reviews” of security clearance holders. But officials also want to take advantage of automated records checks during the initial background investigation phase, with the NBIS program also creating new processing and case management capabilities.

Smith says consolidating multiple disparate legacy systems under the NBIS platform will help investigators, adjudicators and other mission leaders more easily find and share the information they need.

He says the NBIS leverages code and infrastructure developed for case initiation software and other capabilities to develop background investigation processing capabilities.

“At this point, we’ve invested in foundational elements for the background investigation mission,” Smith said. “We’re working to prioritize all of the business’ operational capabilities and grow them, not to replace the unique functions they have today, but really to find transformational processes that will make the process of investigating antecedents more effective.”

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