While the Office of Personnel Management’s system for submitting federal background checks is temporarily offline for security upgrades, the office announced that in the meantime government employees requiring security clearances will have to do so the old-fashioned way: with pen and paper.
OPM head Katherine Archuleta sent a memorandum July 2 instructing agencies to use hardcopy background investigation standard forms for the next few weeks to minimize the disruption caused by the temporary shuttering of the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing, or e-QIP, the platform federal personnel use to submit information for security clearances. OPM took the Web platform offline June 29 to perform security upgrades in the wake of the recent OPM systems breaches that compromised the personal information of millions of feds.
“Recognizing the impact of the system being down on both users and agencies OPM has, in agreement with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, implemented a set of interim procedures to address agencies’ requirements and reduce the likelihood of interruptions in the on-boarding of employees while prudently minimizing any security risks,” OPM spokesman Sam Schumach said in a statement.
Archuleta, in the memo cosigned by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, wrote that the interim policy will let agencies initiate background investigations for forms SF-85, SF-85P and SF-86 while e-QIP is down. Personnel can fill out a paper form and give a copy of it to their agency’s HR office for review. When the system is back up, though, personnel will have to re-enter the forms electronically, according to the memo.
“When the e-QIP has been restored, the applicant will re-enter his or her personal information history into e-QIP so that the required investigation may be completed through the regular process,” the memo says. That means those applying for national security positions using standard form 86 will have to fill out nearly 130 pages of information twice.
Until the system is back online, both the HR office and the applicant must hold onto the forms, Archuleta and Clapper wrote. OPM will not accept the paper form.
The interim policies don’t apply to all background checks, however. Top Secret, Top Secret SCI (sensitive compartmented information) and “Q” level clearances used by the Department of Energy will have to wait for the system relaunch as agencies are not authorized to process those forms with this temporary guidance.
The disruption of e-QIP, which is said to receive up to 30,000 clearance applications each week, has caused concern throughout Congress and the private sector.
Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine penned a letter to Archuleta after the announced suspension of e-QIP expressing their worry of how it could worsen the backlog 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,” they wrote.
The Professional Services Council worried how the disruption to e-QIP could hurt the contracting community it represents.
“[W]e are deeply concerned that companies with contractual commitments to the government could be at great risk for non-performance because they may be unable to get the requisite number and quality of employees processed for new clearances or renewals,” PSC President and CEO Stan Soloway wrote in a letter to Archuleta and Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Beth Cobert.