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.


About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Thu, Aug 30, 2012

And whats this about GSA "security" when they put a 3 year chip on a 5 year card? How efficient is that? What about saving money? Oh thats right I forgot this is the Goverment, and we aren't supposed to 'save' money.

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 SCI Cleared Fed DC

What should be done is have a system that maintains clearance info for all contractors, no matter what agency they work at. The high water mark shoudl be used for the investigation, so when a person moves from a DoD contract to ah HHS contract to a Secret Service contract, the level of clearance will be using whoever has the highest requirements. That should be enough to help with reciprosity. I think there would be too much politics trying to have 1 system that all agencies use, but it is possible. The physical security requirements can be handled by the Intel Community, DoD, State, Energy and DHS having their own copies of the same system because the protection requirements of the data can also be different agency-to-agency. Everyone will use the same application and with the info stored on the PIV cards, it can be scanned and the info will auto populate the new agency's system.

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 RonW

Let me see --- I had a Navy clearance for reserves/active duty, I had a civilian clearance for working at Lockheed, I became a contractor at an Air Force base and worked for 3 months with a clearance from somewhere, but when I converted to a GS-12, it took 6 months to get an interim at the same level from the Air Force, and that was only because my boss wrote a letter about the rising cost to the government for me not to be able to talk about what I knew because I was not cleared to know it anymore (after 15 years of working on the subject).

I was told some years ago that it is the same office, just different desks that do not talk to each other.

Mon, Aug 13, 2012

Not sure how they came up with DoD being so good. When I converted from contractor to GS, different service but within DoD, my clearance didn't follow and I had to start all over from scratch. Not sure about the details but when I mentioned to our security folks that my clearance was in JPAS, they said they didn't use that system and I had to start over. This was a little while ago so I'm not sure if that's still the case.

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 Keith PA

I believe that there are similar instances where tax payer money could be saved as when Govt. employees and Active Duty Military retirees move to new Govt agencies, not all security clearences follow the individual. So this is not a "Govt contractor only" issue. The process of verifying current/active clearences needs to exaimined and a more centralized Govt-wide approach for streamlining this process. A good example is when a military soldier renews a TS clearence, then 1 year later retirees, goes for a Govt position outside of DOD, why does it take months and months to get a lower level clearence through the system ? A good zrea for money saving efficiencies without a loss of control and proper verifications.

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