By Rona S. HirschJanuary 16, 2009
Nearly 90 contracted adjudicators have been trained and hired for the year to reduce the overwhelming case overload at the Army Central Clearance Facility.
"We need them to eliminate the backlog," said Linda Dei, chief of the CCF adjudication division.
Based at Fort Meade, CCF adjudicators decide whether to grant, deny or revoke security clearances for Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians, as well as DA contractors only at the sensitive compartmented information level. Decisions are based on information provided by investigators at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C.
But for nearly two years, CCF staffers have been overwhelmed by the rise in cases. While the facility received 101,000 files in 2005, more than 295,000 new investigations were received last year, said Lt. Col. Thomas J. Rouse, CCF deputy commander.
"We got such a huge workload," he said. "Every year it has gone up. We just don't have the capacity."
Rouse attributed the jump to the Global War on Terrorism, which increased the Army operations tempo and deployment numbers. "The Army has grown and the technology has changed, so more service members and civilians need clearance, depending on the equipment they handle and information they are associated with," he said.
The urgency to step up clearance is due to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act passed in 2004, said Col. Edward Fish, commander of CCF. "It's more mandated that we meet specific time standards for adjudication by the end of 2009," he said. "One of the findings was the clearance process needed to be shortened and to get cases awaiting adjudication over and done with."
CCF receives the cases for 40 percent of DoD personnel seeking clearance, said Fish. "As good and as efficient people working here are, there are not enough days to accomplish the mission," he said. "The long-term goal is to grow employees. So our bridge is contractors, to get out cases accumulating in the past two years."
The Army contracted with the Jupiter Corporation to train and temporarily hire 89 contractors to supplement CCF's 159 personnel, which include 10 service members. "They sent trained adjudicators and we give them additional training on Army-specific areas," Rouse said.
Based in Wheaton, Jupiter has contracts with the Air Force and a variety of DoD agencies. "This is the largest adjudicator contract we have," said Kristi Rydzewski, program manager for Jupiter.
Training was provided by CCF along with the Defense Security Service Academy at the DSS in Linthicum. "They had to learn procedures and we learned contracting procedures," Rouse said. "It's the first time we ever dealt with contractors on this level."
Contractors also were taught to review files electronically. "Our software is unique," Rouse said. "It's DOD-centric and Army-centric training."
The first group trained from Dec. 15 to 18, and started working at CCF on Dec. 19. The second group trained Jan. 5 to 8, and started work Jan. 9.
"It's complex, different than I expected, more technology," said Angela Gathers, an Upper Marlboro contractor. "But the training made it seem more difficult, a bigger bear than it is."
The Army has a 12-month contract with an option to extend for another 12 months. Although CCF leaders hope to get caught up by the year's end, a manpower survey in August identified the need for an additional 31 full-time employees, Dei said.
"In the next 12 months we will work to get approval for hiring," Rouse said. "If the workload increases, we will extend the contract."
On average, contractors must review 10 to 14 cases per day. A "clean case" takes as little as 15 minutes, said Rouse, while a "significantly derogatory case" may take hours.
"The focus for contractors is on the derogatories," Dei said.
Contractors, however, can only make recommendations on adjudications. "Adjudications are considered a government activity, so contractors can't make a decision," Dei said.
Their recommendations for clearance approval or denial are reviewed by CCF's federal adjudicators. "I had to take 20 [adjudicators] off, my best, to do reviewing now," Dei said.
Whether dealing with an outstanding warrant for an unpaid parking ticket, a DUI or poor credit, adjudicators take into account mitigating factors -- age, circumstances -- according to the process' 13 guidelines and the "whole person" concept. "It's not just in isolation," Rouse said.
Overall, more cases are granted than denied. "We only revoke or deny 5 to 6 percent a year across the board," Rouse said.
CCF currently shares space with the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, but ground breaking for a new facility north of the Fort Meade Pavilion is scheduled for February or March.
To make room for the contractors, CCF reconfigured its space, instituted telecommunication technology and divided contractors into day and evening shifts. "It's amazing the amount of work [needed] to get 89 people set up," Rouse said.