DOD's security logjam
- By Dan Verton
- Mar 19, 2000
Houston — Army information technology managers last week urged senior leaders
to speed up the vexing process of granting security clearances to contractors
and permanent personnel assigned to work on mission-critical systems.
An official from the Army's National Training Center said some personnel
can remain idle for a year waiting for clearance that lets them to go to
work. That pattern costs DOD several billion dollars a year in lost productivity,
according to a recent General Accounting Office study.
"Bill Gates doesn't require anything more than a local [security] check
to put somebody to work on a system," the NTC representative told Army Lt.
Gen. William Campbell, director of information systems for command, control,
communications and computers, during the annual Directors of Information
Management Conference here. Campbell said he would assist in finding a solution.
The Army is not the only DOD branch struggling with security clearances.
Major problems with a $100 million software application designed to manage
the investigation process have contributed to a backlog of 600,000 security
investigations across the department.
The Defense Security Service, the arm of the Pentagon responsible for
conducting background investigations on government employees and contractors,
said it cannot eliminate the massive backlog in pending investigations until
the end of 2001 due to significant glitches in the Case Control Management
System (see box).
DSS awarded the CCMS contract in October 1998 to GRC International Inc.
and Science Applications International Corp. The contract was part of an
enterprisewide modernization program designed to automate the field investigation
process and link that information to databases and other information management
systems within the DSS Operations Center.
Because of the security implications posed by the backlog, DSS has developed
software workarounds to help investigators focus on high-risk cases and
is granting some employees interim access to classified data in lieu of
a completed investigation. That's a real security problem, GAO said, because
some people have been granted top-secret security clearances despite a lack
of basic information, such as residence, citizenship and employment history.
DSS also is studying alternatives to the estimated $300 million in additional
funding that may be required to fix the system. A spokesperson for DSS said
the agency is still evaluating future funding requirements. "Additional
funding will be required to achieve optimal performance," the spokesperson
said. However, "Additional improvements and enhancements are dependent upon
the level of funding provided to DSS," the spokesperson added.
Problems for CCMS started in mid-1998, prior to the fielding of Version
2.1 of the system's electronic questionnaire software. Although DSS contends
that Version 2.1 solved many of the problems, most DSS field offices reverted
to using paper forms because of continued glitches.
DOD had been using CCMS for several months, but it was officially deployed
Nov. 1, 1998. A day later, Arthur Money, the Pentagon's assistant secretary
of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, sent a
memo to all military department heads describing the use of electronic security
questionnaire forms as "critical to the deployment of CCMS" and warning
them that usage was "extremely low."
Use of the electronic forms was so low that between January and August
1998, paper forms still accounted for an average of 65 percent of all questionnaires
submitted, according to Money's memo. Usage of the electronic forms continued
to sputter in 1999, and Money issued another memo reminding DOD leaders
that "the success of CCMS is totally dependent on use of the Electronic
Personnel Security Questionnaire."
But CCMS' problems continued, according to DSS officials. Judy Hughes,
the chief operating officer at DSS, on March 8, 1999, told members at a
public meeting of the President's Security Policy Advisory Board that "the
current CCMS system allows information to flow as if it were on a one-lane
road, and currently the need is for an eight-lane information highway,"
according to minutes from the meeting.
The board's Jan. 10, 2000, meeting minutes show that investigations
for issuing secret-level clearances are taking 250 days to complete, and
it takes four months to grant interim clearances. DOD has since extended
its waiver of personnel security clearances for industry for one more year,
leading an industry representative at the meeting to conclude CCMS's problems
are likely to continue.
GRC did not return FCW's request for an interview.
The DSS representative said daily output of electronic forms and investigations
has increased and that the agency is "confident" that it will continue to
increase the number of e-forms processed. "We have made significant progress
and we are well on our road to recovery."