Tag Archives: Digital Defense Service

Defense Digital Service Leads Acquisition Of Modern Security Clearance Prototype

Image: DDS


“DDS wants a security clearance system that accounts for subject information collection, background investigation with some automated processes, and adjudication, the team announced in a request for white papers Tuesday.

The team will use an “other transaction agreement,” or OTA, to acquire the prototype.”


“As the Pentagon assumes responsibility for the federal government’s security clearance functions, it has tasked its Defense Digital Service team with leading the acquisition of a modern and partially automated prototype system for clearances. ‘

The decades-old congressional authority [Other Transaction Agreement (OTA] allows federal agencies to craft prototype-development deals with nontraditional vendors at a much quicker pace, often less than 60 days. This specific contract will last nine months and be worth no more than $5 million.

“This prototype will require integration with a wide variety of U.S. Government and commercial databases to verify the Subject’s identity and background information,” the solicitation says. “Development of the prototype will be rapid and agile in nature, fielding new functionality to users for feedback every two weeks.”

The software prototype must be hosted in commercial cloud approved for DOD Impact Level 4, which accounts for the most sensitive unclassified information. The final product must be “capable of collecting Subject’s information for a specified population, executing a background investigation of a specified type (including automated record checks, deconfliction/entity resolution, and manual investigation notes entry), and recording an adjudication decision.”

Additionally, DDS wants the software to meet a few specific needs:

  • Place the subject is at the center of the process
  • Enhance transparency of clearances, adding to the subject’s visibility into the process
  • Improve “user experience, workflow and information management, and productivity for additional non-Subject user communities”
  • Reduce the timeline of investigation and adjudication
  • Facilitate enrollment in continuous evaluation

Congress calls for such advancements in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act: “Current practices are mired in outdated methods and non-digital, non-automated technology. Expensive human investigative resources are consumed with fact checking and data collection functions (ripe candidates for automation) as opposed to investigating substantive issues about the actions and circumstances of prospective and current employees. A better model has been clear to policymakers for at least a decade: a ‘continuous evaluation’ concept based on automated access to a wide array of digital sources and records.”

Interested companies have until March 19 to submit questions and until March 26 to submit completed white papers.

This OTA comes as the Pentagon consolidates the security clearance and background check functions from across government into the Defense Security Service. As the solicitation explains, the current process, led by the Office of Personnel Management, “is spread across multiple federal agencies and has led to a series of overburdened queues, opaque and disjointed processing, and an on average 13- month turnaround for cases.”


Pentagon to Harness Best Talent America Has to Offer


Ashton Carter

Defense Secretary Carter


“Defense Digital Service  will bring in talent from America’s technology community to work for a specific period of time, or for a specific project.

This approach was used by the White House to fix the healthcare.gov website.

[In addition] A wide-ranging personnel reform proposal unveiled by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter could put the Pentagon in a better position to compete with the private sector for talent.

The proposals that Carter announced Nov. 18 would be the most far reaching personnel reforms the Pentagon has seen since the United States eliminated the draft and moved to an all-volunteer force more than 40 years ago.

Under a project that Carter dubbed “Force of the Future,” the Defense Department will seek to “harness the best talent America has to offer,” he said in a speech at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs.

Carter launched the effort in April out of concern that the military is struggling to recruit and retain top talent at a time when commanders need people with specialized skills in areas that also are in high demand in the private sector — international affairs, foreign languages, cyber security and all manner of information technology.

The reforms appear to be particularly motivated by recent struggles in the Army to recruit qualified soldiers and to retain its most skilled officers. These challenges are seen as a bellwether for potentially long-term recruiting and retention troubles.

The “Force of the Future” review is being led by Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson, who enlisted more than 150 subject matter experts from the military services and academia. The group reviewed over 100 studies and commission reports on civilian and military personnel issues, talent management, and private sector human resources practices.

According to a senior defense official, Carter was insistent that the Pentagon move away from an industrial-age personnel system where human resources is about “soul annihilating box checking,” in favor of “best practices” that are followed in the private sector but haven’t made their way to the Defense Department.

A key goal is to increase the flow of personnel and ideas between the public and private sector. There should be “on ramps” for private sector talent to come into the Defense Department to help tackle tough technical projects, Carter said.

Carter also wants to offer “off ramps” for military service members to “connect with ideas and innovators outside the Pentagon.” This means having the option to take sabbaticals. DoD will ask Congress to lift the pilot restrictions on the existing “career intermission program” that lets service members take a sabbatical for a few years while they are starting a family, exploring different career opportunities or pursuing a degree without having to leave the military. The current programs are not widely used because officers fear they will not be promoted. Carter will push the services to encourage these sabbaticals.

“We’ve always been mindful that the military is a profession of arms. It’s not a business,” Carter said. “The key to doing this successfully is leveraging tradition and change. While the military cannot and should not replicate all aspects of the private sector, we can and should borrow best practices, technologies, and personnel management techniques in commonsense ways.”

With only a year left in the Obama administration, it is unclear what, if any, of these reforms will have a chance to take hold before Carter leaves office. The senior defense official said time is of the essence. “We’re all in a hurry,” he said. “Progress will be measured in weeks, not months.”

In a Nov. 18 memo, Carter set a Dec. 15 deadline for the military services to submit their plans for how they will implement these reforms. “The secretary wants to do things he can put his stamp on,” the official said. “This is really his vision.”

One of the proposals includes creating an online job matching system for service members to “shop around” as they would on LinkedIn. They would be able to search for jobs using data that has not typically been captured by the department.

Carter also will launch a comprehensive compensation study. Today, everyone is paid the same based on rank, time and grade, the defense official said. “That’s not how leading companies do that.” 

Benefits also will be reviewed. Some of the most controversial proposals involve maternity and paternity leave policies. According to the official, these recommendations are still being debated. 

Carter said the Pentagon is updating and modernizing retirement benefits. He believes this is essential to attract young people to join the military. Today, troops have to serve 20 years before getting any retirement benefits, but 80 percent don’t serve that long, which means they leave with no retirement benefits at all. “Starting in the next few years, we’ll be able to offer a portable 401k-like plan, which all who serve can take with them whenever they move on — whatever’s next in life,” Carter said.

These reforms are only the beginning, said Carter. “So stay tuned in the coming months. We’re taking a serious look at making some commonsense reforms to our officer promotion system. We’re also looking at ways to improve how we manage our civilian personnel.”

Other initiatives proposed under “Force of the Future” include:

• College internship programs that would increase the likelihood of participants receiving full-time jobs in the Department of Defense.
• Entrepreneur-in-residence program to embed up to three entrepreneurs in different parts of the department to work on special projects sponsored by senior leaders.
• The designation of a “chief recruiting officer” within the office of the secretary of defense to lead executive recruitment throughout the department and to function as an executive headhunter.
• Expansion of the secretary of defense “corporate fellows” program that assigns service members to work at top U.S. corporations and bring back what they learn.”