DOD's security logjam

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."

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