Little progress on clearance overload

There's a rumor around town that the backlog of security clearance applications has doubled in the past year or so because of the Iraq war and increases in homeland security efforts. But don't bother trying to verify it.

Even the investigators with clout at the General Accounting Office were forced to acknowledge in a February report that no one knows the size of the Defense Department's backlog, while the Office of Personnel Management declined to release the size of its backlog or any data on the subject to Federal Computer Week, citing national security concerns.

The chairman of the Intelligence Committee of the Information Technology Association of America, Doug Wagoner, told the audience at an ITAA-sponsored meeting on federal business opportunities in March that the backlog was in the neighborhood of 400,000 applications. GAO estimated DOD's backlog at 270,000, based on September 2003 data.

OPM and Bush administration officials have been touting the E-Clearance initiative, part of the president's e-government program, as a solution to the long-standing backlog problems. But that project appears to have stalled, too. OPM spokesman Scott Hatch declined to predict when the automated system would make a dent in the backlogs.

In addition, OPM was supposed to take over the clearance chores from the Defense Security Service, but that plan has run into snags. According to GAO, officials are discussing an alternative plan.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) is looking into the backlog, a Davis spokesman said, adding, "We want to find a solution for it."

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