Lack of clearance reciprocity costs millions, survey shows
Defense intelligence contractors said in a new survey that they could meet mission needs better and save the government money if government agencies accepted security clearances and sensitive compartmented information facilities (SCIFs) more broadly.
TechAmerica, a government IT industry trade group, warned Aug. 10 that agencies could incur unnecessary costs while resources are increasingly scarce.
“The results were stark and clear. Federal agencies are not adhering to existing clearance reciprocity laws, resulting in massive inefficiencies in time, effort and money,” said Greg Keeley, vice president of defense, intelligence and homeland security policy at TechAmerica.
The result: “The U.S. government is squandering millions of taxpayer dollars on a redundant clearance system."
The survey was conducted by TechAmerica and involved TechAmerica members who represent the largest defense contracting firms in the industry. Of those surveyed, 74 percent had at least 101 employees with clearances, and some had more than 1,000.
A quarter of the companies surveyed said they pay between $1 million and more than $10 million annually -- counting the value of time as well as money -- for security clearances because reciprocity for clearances between agencies is rare, according to the survey.
This lack of mutual acceptance is a well-known difficulty. Most companies said it takes them from six to nine months to get a clearance. The Government Accountability Office has also studied the problem, and Gene Dodaro, comptroller general, told a Senate committee in June that it remains an issue.
In June, GAO and other investigative agencies reported that the government has improved the internal efficiency of the process, speeding up approval time. Yet, companies are still frustrated by the refusal of government agencies to recognize reciprocal clearance laws, according to TechAmerica.
In the survey, 96 percent of companies said they encounter problems transferring cleared personnel between different contracts with agencies. The Homeland Security Department is the toughest agency to deal with, 74 percent of those surveyed said. Coming in second, companies said the intelligence agencies that are not inside the Defense Department are difficult to work with. Only 7 percent of respondents said they had difficulties with DOD.
If agencies would accept others’ security clearances, companies said the government could reap a number of benefits.
Nearly 80 percent of the companies said they could lower personnel costs and increase their ability to both respond to agencies’ mission needs and bring the “best and the brightest” to work.
Besides security clearances, companies have to get approval from agencies for their secure locations, called SCIFs. A SCIF is an area set aside area within a building that is used to process sensitive compartmented information-level classified data.
Eleven percent of companies said they pay between $1 million and $5 million annually to get their SCIFs cleared between agencies, although 56 percent said they pay less than $1 million. Nevertheless, companies said it would help to have agencies share approvals, which leads to benefits for the government.
Of those surveyed, 68 percent of companies said they could improve their ability to compete for new contracts and 68 percent also said the approvals would allow them to reduce their overhead costs of performing contracts. In the end, it would save the taxpayers money, according to more than two-thirds of the respondents.
The survey results follow the House’s passage of the fiscal 2013 Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R. 5743). The House passed the bill in May. The Senate has not considered the legislation.
In part, the bill would require the president to develop a strategy and timeline to establish working guidance for reciprocity of security clearances between departments and the specific circumstances under which an agency will not recognize a security clearance issued by another department.
Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.