July 01, 2015

Warner, Kaine Press OPM On Security Clearance Backlog

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) today pressed Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta for more details on how the agency plans to address the government security clearance processing backlog after OPM identified a vulnerability in the web-based platform that is used to complete and submit background investigation forms, which resulted in taking the system offline for an estimated four to six weeks.

OPM conducts 95 percent of the federal government’s background investigations for new and existing federal employees and contractors across more than 100 agencies. Last year, OPM completed more than one million background investigations.

In a letter to Director Archuleta, Sens. Warner and Kaine wrote, “With the e-QIP system now reportedly down for at least four to six weeks, it will cause significant disruption to the process through which information is submitted to allow OPM to process security clearances.  Although the time that e-QIP is offline will allow OPM to address the current backlog, that down time will also mean additional submissions will continue to pile up, exacerbating the problem when e-QIP is brought back online.  Although OPM has noted that it is working on alternative measures to address this looming crisis, it has failed to provide any detail as to its strategy that will give adequate assurance to the thousands of Virginians who depend on having proper security credentials in place to do their jobs.” 

The full text of today’s letter follows below.

On June 12, Sens. Warner and Kaine were joined by their colleagues from Maryland in calling on OPM to do more to protect federal employees whose personal information was compromised as a result of the massive breach, including pushing OPM to provide “a significantly longer period of credit monitoring than the current proposed 18 months.” They also questioned why OPM did not encrypt the social security numbers of federal employees, a common practice that provides an additional layer of protection for workers’ personal information.

Additionally, Sen. Warner wrote to the OPM Director on June 19 to raise concerns about the performance of the contractor OPM hired to provide credit monitoring services and identity theft protection for hack victims, highlighting hours-long wait times and inaccurate data reported by his constituents that call into question the contractor’s ability to appropriately protect them from fraud and identity theft. In the letter, Sen. Warner also questioned the procurement process used to award the contract, given that the solicitation was open for an unusually short 36-hour period. Sen. Warner has also called on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to work with OPM to protect federal employees from tax-related identity theft.

Sen. Warner, a former technology executive and Virginia governor, has also pressed OPM to resolve the technological issues that have led to enormous backlogs in processing retirement applications that resulted in months-long delays for federal retirees to receive the benefits they have earned.

July 1, 2015

The Honorable Katherine Archuleta

Director

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

1900 E Street, NW

Washington, DC 20415-1000

Dear Director Archuleta:

We write today to express concern with the recent announcement by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that it has temporarily shut down the e-QIP website that facilitates processing of background investigations.  While we applaud the appropriate caution OPM has employed to address potential vulnerabilities with the e-QIP system, we also believe the agency must do more to ensure that day-to-day operations proceed in the professional and expeditious manner we should expect from the federal agency responsible for personnel matters.  In addition, we urge that OPM do all it can to not exacerbate processing backlogs that are currently in place.

OPM reports that 20,000 to 30,000 background checks are submitted to Federal Investigative Services every week, while at the same time acknowledging that they already have a backlog in processing these submissions.  With the e-QIP system now reportedly down for at least four to six weeks, it will cause significant disruption to the process through which information is submitted to allow OPM to process security clearances.  Although the time that e-QIP is offline will allow OPM to address the current backlog, that down time will also mean additional submissions will continue to pile up, exacerbating the problem when e-QIP is brought back online. 

Although OPM has noted that it is working on alternative measures to address this looming crisis, it has failed to provide any detail as to its strategy that will give adequate assurance to the thousands of Virginians who depend on having proper security credentials in place to do their jobs.  We therefore ask for a response to the following questions:

1.      What is the current backlog for security clearances, and what measure thus far have been used to address that backlog?

2.      How will the e-QIP system’s deactivation affect the current backlog?

3.      What specific plans has OPM developed for alternative processing while e-QIP is deactivated? 

4.      What resources does OPM need to address this issue?

As you know, security clearances are vitally important to the federal and defense contracting workforce in Virginia.  When they cannot be processed in a timely manner, it creates a ripple effect that has numerous consequences for our country’s national security and for Virginia’s workforce.  We look forward to a timely response to this letter and hearing an action plan from your agency to address this pressing issue.  Thank you for your attention to this issue.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner

U.S. Senator

Tim Kaine

U.S. Senator

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