ITAA: Improve background checks

The Information Technology Association of America wants the government to speed the investigations of security clearance applicants with foreign ties and adopt new procedures to modernize the clearance process.

Doug Wagoner, chairman of ITAA’s Intelligence Subcommittee, said this category of investigations is “one of the weakest links in a badly outdated government security clearance process.”

“Of course, applicants with foreign connections must be vetted thoroughly, but today, they routinely wait months for a decision and often appear to be rejected out of hand,” he told a House Government Reform Committee hearing called July 6 by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee’s chairman.

“There are many very gifted and trustworthy technical personnel with foreign connections who can help with our national security goals,” Wagoner said. “America cannot deny itself access to this talent.”

The Office of Personnel Management allows applications to pile up until it has a number of investigations to conduct in a given country, Wagoner said.

Agencies also don’t consistently recognize clearances that other agencies issue, he said. The problem frequently delays contractors’ work and persists despite new federal guidelines issued last year, he said.

Wagoner called for a pilot program to test new technologies and processes to eliminate problems in the clearance system.

The committee has previously examined obstacles that create delays in processing clearances, including agencies’ lack of reciprocity in recognizing security clearances. Committee members called the latest hearing to explore factors that could lead to a denial of clearances for applicants with foreign ties.

Hiring skilled linguists, many of whom have foreign connections, to conduct counterterrorism work is particularly important since the 9/11 Commission issued its report, Davis said.

Federal regulations require government adjudicators reviewing a security clearance application to consider the applicant’s susceptibility to blackmail or influence by foreign agents interested in stealing classified national security information.

Such factors include contact with a foreign family member; connections to foreign individuals, governments or groups that create a conflict of interest; foreign investments; dual citizenship; or possession of a foreign passport.

The National Security Council issued revised Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information in December 2005, developed in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget. They explicitly allow adjudicators to consider an applicant’s country in question and distinguish between those who pose obvious concerns and those who have very low threat potential.

Davis said the consistent application of those guidelines across all agencies is an important condition for achieving reciprocal recognition of clearances. He said the committee will also look into legal concerns the Defense Department has expressed about the revised regulations.

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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