July 8, 2015 | Quoted by Nicole Duran - The Washington Examiner

Shutting Down OPM’s Background Check System Could Crush Federal Contractors

The decision to shut down the Office of Personnel Management's electronic system for processing government background checks, and its return to paper questionnaires, has effectively frozen the issuance of new security clearances and could create a larger backlog of people waiting to be cleared to work for the federal government, some lawmakers and contractors warn.

OPM's Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing system, or e-QIP, has been offline since June 29, when OPM determined that the web-based platform was vulnerable to hacking. OPM determined that agencies could have potential employees or contractors fill out the lengthy questionnaire on paper to meet deadlines for initiating background investigations.

But that step only allows only a few options. It's possible that employees who don't interact with any sensitive information could begin working, or the small group of agencies with authorization to grant interim security clearances could start issuing those clearances, an OPM spokesman confirmed this week. Those options, however, are only available for workers needing secret-level or lower clearances.

lthough federal agencies have probably cut back on filing cabinets and have fewer employees used to filing paper, security-granting agents may look more closely at information written on paper, Anikeeff said.

Thumbing through hundreds of pages manually versus scrolling through them on a computer screen may make something suspicious pop out more, Anikeeff said. “I don't think there's a greater threat; I don't think any of the bad guys will sneak through the system,” he said.

Pasi Eronen, a cyberexpert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the biggest issue with paper forms is whether agencies and their employees are equipped to handle physical documents.

“Are there still valid and approved processes in place for manual handling of security clearance documents?” he asked. “If so, is there still personnel in place who has actually been involved in those processes and can still do it? And even more importantly, is there enough personnel in the first place to move from the optimized, digital processing into manual processing?”

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