Now clear this

In the 2004 budget, President Bush has earmarked more than US$123 billion for R&D funding for technological innovation, giving private industry the opportunity to earn dollars from the government in a tight economy.

That could be good news for business. But working with government agencies requires obtaining security clearances – a task that could take months to accomplish. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is trying to streamline the process.

OPM conducts more than two million security clearance investigations every year – so anyone needing government clearance is often left waiting until someone can process the paperwork.

OPM is betting that the Internet can change all that. Instead of its traditional paper-based forms, the office is launching a 13-page online application form – called e-Qip – for both prospective job applicants and R&D project workers. The form must be completed in order for them to obtain any level of security clearance in the United States. It is able to question an applicant’s background with more detail than its paper-based predecessor.

In addition to the faster turnaround time, the online form will save OPM the time it takes to receive and process paper documentation and the space needed to store those documents, says OPM E-Government Program Director

Norm Enger.

Placing the security clearance document online is only the first step. “Once a person gains clearance, the government can now form an electronic record that will follow them from government job to government job,” says Enger. And since agencies must constantly update personnel records, OPM will have current and detailed information on the 1.8 million employees and contract workers in the government.

In addition to e-Qip, OPM has developed the Clearance Verification System, which integrates information from security clearance investigations and the Department of Defense’s Joint Personnel Adjudication system. That ability to collaborate across departments creates a central storage location for information on who is – and who is not – cleared to work with government agencies and the military.

The OPM expects the entire project will save the government US$258 million during the next 10 years.