July 10, 2005
One of the biggest failures in the war on terror is rarely heard about. This is the inability of the U.S. government to do prompt background investigations for newly hired translators, analysts and investigators. This investigation procedure was always long and cumbersome, and often the target of ridicule and calls for reform. After September 11, 2001, this problem was recognized, but the solution was to move the work from the Department of Defense to the Office of Personnel Management. That just made the situation worse, as the Office of Personnel Management was not prepared to handle the flood of new work. Currently, there is a backlog of 185,000 background investigations.
The number, and intensity, of complaints from counter-terrorism organizations (both government, and civilian contractors), makes it clear that the problem is bad, and is not getting any better. Desperate for skilled personnel, many are allowed to work on sensitive material without security clearances. Officially, this is not done. But, with lives at stake, corners are being cut to get the work done. Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management has made little progress in doubling the number of investigators (another 4,000 are needed), in order to clear up the backlog.