A new Federal watchdog report is pushing the Defense Department (DoD) to come up with better schedule and cost data for ongoing efforts to improve its National Background Investigation Services (NBIS) system, and warns that failure to do so may end up further delaying replacement of legacy IT systems upon which NBIS has relied.

NBIS – which is operated by DoD’s Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) component – functions as the Federal government’s “one-stop-shop IT system for end-to-end personnel vetting — from initiation and application to background investigation, adjudication, and continuous vetting,” according to DCSA.

The DoD component took over NBIS from the Defense Systems Information Agency (DISA) in 2020, and since then has been making improvements to NBIS with a goal of replacing a suite of legacy background investigation IT systems through 2023.

According to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the NBIS upgrade effort “continues to face delays” relative to program milestone schedules, and “DCSA now projects that legacy systems will be decommissioned by the end of 2024.”

GAO said in the report that it recommended in 2021 that “DCSA develop a reliable schedule, which DCSA has not done.” It continued, “the lack of progress in addressing schedule weaknesses could further delay NBIS implementation and the planned replacement of legacy systems.”

“Moreover, GAO found the NBIS program’s cost estimate from 2022 is not reliable, meaning that DCSA may be unable to accurately project NBIS costs,” GAO said.

“Given that DOD has spent over a half a billion dollars on NBIS since 2016, a reliable cost estimate would help ensure that it is collecting the data necessary to match NBIS requirements to its budget and reduce risks of cost overruns that may hinder the program’s progress,” GAO said.

“U.S. government personnel vetting processes, such as background investigations, rely on information technology systems to process and validate data on millions of Federal employees and contractor personnel,” the report states, adding that a fully deployed NBIS system would enable users to complete electronic forms, manage investigations, record decisions, and more.

The Federal watchdog recommends that Congress require the DoD to develop a reliable NBIS program schedule and cost estimate based on GAO best practices. GAO said that means the schedule should be comprehensive, controlled, credible, and well-constructed, and the cost estimates should be accurate, comprehensive, credible, and well-documented.

The GAO also recommended that the Secretary of Defense should ensure that the DCSA Director assess and use GAO’s report finding to inform its efforts to improve engagement with stakeholders across both the Federal government and industry.  GAO said that DoD concurred with that recommendation.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.