Better metrics needed for security clearance process

GAO warns that quality of security reviews remains difficult to measure.

broken lock

What: "Personnel Security Clearances: Full Development and Implementation of Metrics Needed to Measure Quality of Process," a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

Why: Cracks in the security clearance system have contributed, at least in part, to recent high-profile incidents that cost lives and are said to have compromised national security: the attacks on the Washington Navy Yard and classified data leaks by Edward Snowden. Although problems with the security clearance process are not new -- GAO made recommendations for improvement back in 2009 -- the national spotlight has renewed the sense of urgency to fix a broken system.

According to GAO, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management are revising regulations that determine a position's need to access classified information, the first step in the clearance process. The revision is in response to a recommendation GAO made in 2012, but other recommendations -- including one from 2009 that OPM measure how well its investigative reports comply with federal standards for improving the quality of documentation -- remained unmet as of August.

Verbatim: "The executive branch has developed some metrics to assess quality at different phases of the personnel security clearance process; however, those metrics have not been fully developed and implemented. To promote oversight and positive outcomes, such as maximizing the likelihood that individuals who are security risks will be scrutinized more closely, we have emphasized, since the late 1990s, the need to build and monitor quality throughout the personnel security clearance process. Having assessment tools and performance metrics in place is a critical initial step toward instituting a program to monitor and independently validate the effectiveness and sustainability of corrective measures. However, we have previously reported that executive branch agencies have not fully developed and implemented metrics to measure quality in key aspects of the personnel security clearance process, including: (1) investigative reports; (2) adjudicative files; and (3) the reciprocity of personnel security clearances, which is an agency's acceptance of a background investigation or clearance determination completed by any authorized investigative or adjudicative executive branch agency."

Full Report: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-157T

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