Ex-CIA official to head new bureau for background checks

WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA’s former security director has been chosen to head the National Background Investigations Bureau, set up after last year’s massive government data breach at the Office of Personnel Management, officials said Thursday.

Charles Phalen Jr., who starts next week as the new bureau’s first director, was vice president of corporate security for Northrop Grumman Corp. after spending 30 years working in government positions, including stints at the FBI and CIA, where he headed security from 2007 to 2011.

The break-in at the OPM exposed security clearances, background checks and fingerprint records of more than 21 million current, former and prospective federal employees. That intrusion was widely blamed on China and led to the resignation of the OPM director and drew outrage over changing explanations about the severity of the hack.

The bureau will be part of OPM, but the Defense Department will design and operate the computer system that houses and processes people’s personal information.

Beth Cobert, acting director of OPM, told reporters that the bureau also is working to reduce the time it takes to investigate and issue or deny security clearances. Currently, it takes an average of 170 days to investigate a top-security clearance request, far exceeding the goal of 80 days, she said.

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