by SrA. Tom Cochran
BOLLING AFB, D.C. (AFNS) -- A new advanced security clearance processing plan is now in effect that helps Air Force commands get the people they need on the job quicker.
Before the plan was implemented by the 497th Intelligence Group of the Air Force Directorate of Security and Communications Management here, the security clearance caseload averaged more than 110,000 cases annually. That created a "bow wave" which caused more than 44,000 backlogged cases, said Lt. Col. Michael Townes, program director.
"As the sole clearance granting office in the Air Force, we average between 6,000 and 8,000 new cases per month which we're adding to the backlog," Townes said. "And with more than 350,000 Air Force positions needing some type of security clearance, you can see where things could get backed up and the impact that could have on the overall Air Force."
The biggest change in the offices' approach has been the addition of total quality management, Townes said.
"We gave the authority to make changes to the people with the responsibility of completing the task," Townes said. "We're letting them do their job -- and they are doing it very well."
In addition, the office created a tracking system for all top secret clearances cases, or special access programs, said MSgt. Jan Lewis, chief of operations for the directorate's information management support branch.
"These two changes allow quicker access to cases, stops them from being adjudicated more than once as clearance requirements change, and reduces the overall processing time," Lewis said. "This also allows commanders in the field to put their people to work that much faster, which is really our bottom line."
The addition of a customer support center to handle routing inquiries from the field provides improved responsiveness, especially for Air Force units overseas, both telephonically and through electronic mail, according to Carol Wellbaum, directorate chief of customer support.
In the first month of operation, the center handled more than 1,000 inquiries.
"We have freed the adjudicators from having to answer these routine calls and this, in turn, lets them concentrate on their primary job," Wellbaum said.
While most of this effort was the work of the civilians and military members assigned to the directorate, it was a "total force" effort.
Col. Eugene Beauvais, 694th Intelligence Group commander, Fort Meade, Md., offered the loan of some of his people who were on "casual" status while waiting for their own clearance to be processed. The office also received help from an Air Force Reserve flight.
"The reservists put in some long, quality hours," Lewis said. "There's no way we could have done this without their help as well as the help from Fort Meade."
The only "problem" with the help was the quicker cases were adjudicated, the faster the office lost its manpower help from Fort Meade, Townes said. "In a sense we got too fast for our own good. But it was a good position to be in because that meant we had drastically reduced our in-house caseload."
The caseload has dropped from 44,000 in April 1994 to less than 1,000 now. The time a case waits for adjudication has also reduced -- from nearly 200 days to just seven .
"We figured that the total savings to the Air Force without the backlog is more than $94 million," Townes said. "That equates to more than 4,500 manyears."
The office's improvements and initiatives for on-line, real time updates to Air Force units have been briefed to Gen. Ronald R. Fogelman, Air Force chief of staff, who praised the work that has already been done and endorsed automation initiatives.
Gen. Thomas Moorman, Air Force vice chief of staff, highlighted this "success story" at a recent Air Force Quality Symposium. Moorman said the effort was an excellent example of how Quality Air Force principles can be used to improve the way Air Force does business.