Davis keeps close watch on security clearance process

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, issued a statement late today commenting on a report from the Government Accountability Office that is highly critical of how the Office of Management and Budget has handled the security clearance process.

Davis said a close reading of the report and conversations with stakeholders reveal “both good news and bad news regarding the speed and quality of clearance investigations.”

He said the report, “DOD Personnel Clearances: Additional OMB Actions Are Needed to Improve the Security Clearance Process,” indicates that the government is not meeting its goals for processing initial investigations, re-investigations and adjudications. He said GAO found that an “inexperienced investigative workforce not fully using technology" was among the causes of the delays.

He added that those delays “may increase costs for contracts and risks to national security.”

GAO found that too many investigations were missing key information, and “under the strain of increased demand for clearances, the current system seems unable to maintain investigative standards consistently,” Davis said.

The report states that “most background checks studies were incomplete, with gaps in potentially critical areas like foreign contacts and income sources.” Davis said adjudicators must make evaluations about missing information when deciding whether to grant a clearance, and other agencies might defy efforts to promote clearance reciprocity.

Davis said reaching a basic clearance decision on a contractor whose work is critical to timely performance shouldn’t take more than a year.

“The system needs to be, and I believe is being, re-engineered from end to end, making greater use of technology and providing real-time visibility of the status of all investigations,” he said. He added that a “more technological, risk-based investigative process will be our goal going forward."

Davis said GAO’s review focused on security clearance applications that were submitted at the end of 2004. That was before the February 2005 transfer of the Defense Security Service to the Office of Personnel Management and before passage of the security clearance modernization provisions Davis authored and included in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act that was signed into law in December 2004.

“I believe this report largely verifies that the clearance process was indeed in terrible shape when DOD transferred its investigations functions to OPM in February 2005,” he said. “I am certain that a sample of more current cases would show significant improvement in both timeliness and consistent investigative standards.”

Davis said he and his staff would remain in close contact with Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management, and OPM Director Linda Springer. “Both assure us many process improvements have been and will continue to be made since the date of the transfer,” he said. “I believe OMB and OPM fully understand what’s at stake here and that they are continually reassessing investigative standards in the name of efficiency and security.”

He added that he will continue to examine new data from OPM as it becomes available, “so that we continue to move closer to the 21st-century investigative and adjudication processes we need” to meet the long-term need for timely and cost-effective clearance investigations.

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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