Congress

Security-check oversight measure clears House

Congressional dome silhouette

A bill to strengthen government authority to investigate flawed or inadequate security clearance checks passed the House of Representatives without opposition on Jan. 14.

The measure, by Texas Republican Blake Farenthold, would allow the inspector general at the Office of Personnel Management access to a $2 billion agency revolving fund for the purposes of investigating contractors and government personnel conducting background checks. It is nearly identical to a security clearance measure the Senate passed by voice vote in October.

The Senate bill was introduced by Montana Democrat Jon Tester, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce, after hearings revealed that the contractor USIS, which conducted a background check on former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, was under investigation for contract fraud.

"Due to the NSA scandal and the terrible tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard, we know that our nation's background-check process badly needs reform -- and now Congress has acted," Tester said in a statement after passage of the House bill. "This bipartisan bill will increase oversight and empower watchdogs to make our nation safer and our government more efficient." A Tester spokesman said the senator expects his chamber to clear the House measure for the president's signature in the next few days.

When President Barack Obama unveils changes in intelligence policy Jan. 17, he is expected to include changes to how security clearances are awarded, monitored, and maintained, according to a report in The Hill.

A review group established by Obama in the wake of the Snowden leaks recommended far-reaching changes to intelligence community practices, including changing the clearance process to include "ongoing rather than periodic" vetting, and allowing for an "administration access" clearance designation for IT personnel who don't need access to the content of intelligence material.

The five authors of the report -- former CIA deputy director Michael Morell; former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke; Cass Sunstein, former administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; and law professors Peter Swire and Geoffrey Stone -- appeared on Jan. 14 at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss their recommendations.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is FCW's senior staff writer, and covers Congress, health IT and governmentwide IT policy. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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