Defense Security Service (DSS)

Updated: March 15, 2021

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    Defense Security Service-DSS There is a federal agency known as the Defense Security Service (DSS) that has been in the headlines in the last decade for a variety of reasons; one significant development involving the agency occurred in April of 2019 when a presidential executive order “shifted responsibility” for background investigations of those applying for security clearances.

    That shift was away from the federal agency that formerly held the responsibility for background checks-a background check office operating under the jurisdiction of the Office of Personnel Management, with the responsibility for background checks being transferred to the Department of Defense.

    That investigative agency, known as the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), issued a press release stating that the move is no surprise to those in the Bureau ever since the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act “first mandated a phased transition for DoD to conduct background and security investigations for DoD personnel,” according to a statement on the NBIB official site.

    A different press release, issued from the Department of Defense adds, “This executive order reflects the administration’s commitment to reform the personnel vetting enterprise to ensure a trusted federal workforce and achieve an efficient, effective, and secure operation that meets all government-wide needs for background investigations.”

    The Defense Security Service plays an important part in this transfer of responsibility; as a result of the executive order, the Department of Defense was tasked with reorganizing DSS “to best position the department to assume primary responsibility for the government-wide background investigation mission.”

    A consequence of these changes is that DSS “will be renamed the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency” (DCSA) and is directed to continue all assigned duties when it existed as DSS “and serve as the primary entity for conducting background investigations for the federal government” according to the press release.

    The agency formerly known as DSS and now renamed as DCSA now reports to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.


    A Brief History Of DSS

    In 1972, the Defense Security Service was created, (then known as the Defense Investigative Service or DIS) but its origins trace back to 1965 when the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) was opened.

    In 1970, a government panel declared Department of Defense security clearance work as a “non-combatant function” leading the government to consider and later implement the creation of an Office of Defense Investigation.

    Thanks to an order from the Secretary of Defense, DIS was born as a separate operating agency with a single mission: carry out all Defense Department background checks for security clearances. This agency’s responsibility was to screen industrial personnel to determine their suitability for being granted access to classified information.

    DISCO was consolidated into the Department of Defense Consolidated Adjudication Facility in 2012, which lead to becoming the Defense Security Service (DSS). As such the agency was charged with carrying out personnel security investigations, but also similar work for industrial security.

    The agency is now known as the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA).


    The DCSA Today

    On April 24, 2019, the President of the United States signed an Executive Order requiring a “phased transfer” of investigative duties from the National Background Investigations Bureau as a function of the Office of Personnel Management to the Department of Defense.

    The transfer as directed in the Executive Order includes “the transfer of personnel and resources from NBIB to DSS, as authorized by the president of the United States. The transfer of NBIB’s operations, personnel, and resources to DoD will commence not later than June 24, 2019 with the transfer completed by Oct. 1, 2019.”

    What DCSA Does

    When background checks were officially carried out by NBIB prior to the initiation of the phased transfer, it was responsible for a variety of duties in its role as the “primary executive branch service provider” for background investigations. Those investigations included:

    • Eligibility for access to classified information.
    • Eligibility to hold a sensitive position.
    • Suitability, or fitness for government employment.
    • Fitness to perform work for or on behalf of the Government as a contractor employee.
    • Fitness for employment as “a non-appropriated fund employee.”
    • Authorization to be issued a Federal credential for logical and physical access to federally-controlled facilities or information systems, which includes Department of Defense (DOD) Contractors in the National Industrial Security Program (NISP).

    DCSA ultimately takes over these duties as a result of the transfer process. DCSA is now the primary Federal agency charged with conducting background investigations but also serves as the DoD agency responsible for the National Industrial Security Program. As such it is required to “execute responsibilities relating to continuous vetting, insider threat programs” and other duties as required by the Secretary of Defense.

    How The Background Check Process Works

    There are a variety of steps to the background check process, from the initial questionnaire form to the final determination of the check:

    • Step 1: The individual being investigated gets notification from the sponsoring agency directing them to fill out an investigative questionnaire. Fingerprinting may be required at this stage.
    • Step 2: The individual seeking the security clearance completes and sends off the questionnaire.
      Step 3: Questionnaire is received and the background investigation begins.
    • Step 4: The investigation is complete, the sponsoring agency receives the documentation and prepares to make a decision.
    • Step 5: A security clearance decision is made by the sponsoring agency.

    The Intensity Of The Background Check

    “Intensity” in this case refers to how the investigating agency views the types of answers given on the initial questionnaire, not just the duration and detail of the investigation itself.  Those filling out the initial questionnaire may wish to prepare answers in advance, especially when it comes to years-old address information, employment history that may be hard to recall from farther back in time, etc.

    Why is this recommended? Because the NBIB official site has reminded applicants in the past, “ incomplete or incorrect information will not only delay the investigation, but could result in an adverse action being taken against you.” It’s important to come to the process as fully prepared as you can.

    Why The Background Check Is Required

    The purpose of the background check is to insure that “all persons privileged to be employed in the departments and agencies of the United States Government shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and of complete and unswerving loyalty to the United States.”

    Background checks are required for all federal employees, contractors, and military members. The duration and intensity of these background checks may vary depending on the type of job applied for, the sensitivity of the position, and “degree of harm that could be caused by the individual in that position.”

    The background check requirements for suitability apply regardless of whether the applicant will actually handle classified data or materials as a part of the assigned duties. Being employed in a position where the applicant may be surrounded by classified data or potentially work around such information is enough to warrant the background check.

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