OPM Moves Background Checks to Paper

By Aliah D. Wright Jul 10, 2015
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When it comes to background checks, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have for now decided to do those checks the old-fashioned way: on paper.

This decision follows the revelation on June 4, 2015, that OPM—the agency responsible for hiring and screening federal workers—was the victim of a cyberattack in December 2014 that compromised the data of 22 million current and former federal employees. On June 12, OPM revealed that a second attack had happened in May 2015—this one targeting the information of millions more Americans who had applied for security clearances.

The agency shut down its Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) system on June 29.

According to a memo released by the Information Security Oversight Office, the e-QIP system is a web-based platform used to complete and submit background investigation forms. “OPM previously announced that it had temporarily taken the e-QIP system offline for security enhancements. OPM took this step proactively and expects the e-QIP system could be offline for four to six weeks while these security enhancements are implemented,” the memo stated.

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper signed the memo July 2 outlining a new process that will be in place for at least the next four weeks.

In a joint statement, Archuleta and Clapper said the interim procedures should “address agencies’ requirements and reduce the likelihood of interruptions in the onboarding of employees while prudently minimizing any security risks.”

Under the new interim procedures, OPM said applicants must give hard copies of security clearance forms directly to the agencies to which they have applied for positions, but not to OPM.

“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 said. “Agencies shall maintain a list of all investigations initiated using these interim procedures and the subsequent date the investigations are processed through e-QIP when e-QIP service is restored.”

Developed in 2003, the e-QIP system allows employees, contractors and potential employees to add their personal information to certain forms over what was thought to be a secure Internet connection.

On July 1, Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., wrote to OPM asking for answers about the impact of taking the e-QIP system offline.

“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,” the senators wrote. “Although the time that e-QIP is offline will allow OPM to address the current backlog, that downtime will also mean additional submissions will continue to pile up, exacerbating the problem when e-QIP is brought back online.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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