Security clearance deadline looms for OMB

The Government Accountability Office, while praising the commitment of the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management to devise a governmentwide plan to address the Defense Department’s security clearance problems, has expressed concern that progress will stop July 1, when OMB’s leadership role expires.

That would further delay removing the DOD clearance program from GAO’s list of high-risk programs, said Derek Stewart, GAO’s director of defense capabilities and management.

In a letter to Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia Subcommittee, Stewart wrote that the executive order that put OMB in charge of developing the plan expires July 1 and has not been extended.

Stewart’s letter was in response to questions about the much-criticized clearance program that Voinovich’s committee asked him last November. This was months before all clearance requests were suddenly put on hold in April, when the Defense Security Service said it had run out of money to pay for them.

“While OPM has provided some leadership in assisting OMB with the development of the governmentwide plan, OPM may not be in a position to assume OMB’s leadership role for a variety of reasons,” Steward wrote.

He cites three reasons:

  • Many “management challenges for OPM and its associate director of investigation unit” exist in the governmentwide plan.
  • The adjudication of security clearances and which agencies require them is outside OPM’s current charges.
  • Any agencies’ disputes with OPM may require a high-level third party to mediate a resolution.

Stewart also wrote that OPM and OMB “could enhance the transparency and likelihood that the [program] initiatives would be continued by improving communications with clearance-process stakeholders and correcting the deficiencies in the governmentwide plan,” which Stewart said he outlined in testimony before the committee last November.

He cited communications problems as one factor limiting efforts to improve the clearance system. For example, he said, until recently, OPM had not officially shared its investigator’s handbook with DOD adjudicators. “Adjudicators raised concerns that without knowing what was required by the investigator’s handbook, they could not fully understand how investigations were conducted and the investigative reports that form the basis for their adjudicative decisions.”

Stewart also said that “the transparency of the initiatives may be limited if the governmentwide plan is not communicated and available to all stakeholders.”

He called the development of the governmentwide plan an important step, but said “much remains to be done to develop a more comprehensive plan for improving the timeliness and quality of the security clearance process.”

He said GAO will continue to assess and monitor DOD’s security-clearance program and its progress in meeting the goals and objectives outlined in the governmentwide plan.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.


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