While security clearances speed up, quality lags, GAO says

Although OPM and DOD have made significant progress in improving the timeliness of the personnel security clearance process, agencies still need to improve the quality of clearance investigations, according to GAO officials.

Although the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and Department of Defense (DOD) have made significant progress in improving the timeliness of the personnel security clearance process, agencies still need to work harder to improve the quality of clearance investigations, Government Accountability Office (GAO) officials told lawmakers.

In testimony before a House intelligence subcommittee on Oct. 1, GAO officials noted that agencies have notably reduced clearance backlogs — OPM itself conducted about 750,000 national security investigations in Fiscal Year 2008.

However, problems related to the quality of clearance investigations and adjudication determinations persist, auditors said. For example, auditors estimated 87 percent of about 3,500 investigative reports prepared by OPM for initial top secret clearances adjudicated in July 2008 were missing required documentation.

For DOD adjudicative files, GAO estimated that 22 percent were missing required documentation of the rationale for granting clearances to applicants with security concerns.

When auditors asked for an explanation, they discovered that both agencies were limited because neither OPM nor DOD measures the completeness of their investigative reports or adjudicative files. GAO recommended that DOD clarify its guidance to specify when adjudicators can use incomplete investigative reports in adjudication decisions, and that OPM and DOD measure the completeness of their investigation and adjudication documentation.

For more information, go to: www.gao.gov/new.items/d10117t.pdf.

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