GAO urges action on clearances

Davis cites new GAO report in a statement calling for better management of the security clearance process

DOD Personnel Clearances: Additional OMB Actions Are Needed to Improve Security Clearance Process

A Government Accountability Office report suggests that the Office of Management and Budget bears significant management responsibility for improving the security clearance process. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, issued a statement earlier this month urging OMB to do more to speed the processing of clearance applications. Davis said a close reading of the report and conversations with stakeholders reveal both good and bad news about the speed and quality of clearance investigations.

Davis said the report indicates that the government is not meeting its goals for processing initial investigations, reinvestigations and adjudications, and he said the document offers recommendations.

For example, GAO found that an inexperienced investigative workforce and its failure to use information technology to the greatest extent possible are two reasons for the missed goals. OMB’s benchmark is 14 days for completing the application submission phase of the security clearance process. In reality, that phase takes an average of 111 days to complete, GAO found. Initial clearance investigations should take no more than 180 days under OMB’s guidelines, but the average time is 289 days, according to the report.

GAO found that too many investigations were missing key information. Most background checks studies were incomplete, with gaps in potentially critical areas such as foreign contacts and income sources. Davis said reaching a basic clearance decision on a contractor whose work is critical to timely performance shouldn’t take more than a year.

GAO’s review focused on security clearance applications that were submitted at the end of 2004. That was before the February 2005 transfer of pending clearance applications from the Defense Security Service to OPM and before lawmakers passed the security clearance modernization provisions that Davis wrote. The provisions became part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act that President Bush signed in December 2004.

“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,” Davis said.

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

In a written response to GAO, OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Clay Johnson said the agency has begun fixing the problem.

“I agree with the report’s conclusion that agencies must identify and implement new investigative and adjudicative solutions to improve the quality and timeliness of background investigations,” he wrote. “This summer the Security Clearance Work Group established a subcommittee, chaired by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to do just that.”

Johnson said he disagreed with some of the specific statistics in the GAO report. But he added that the strategic plan developed in 2005 for the clearance process is still valuable.

He said OMB will re-examine it in 2007 to “ensure it is current and suitably aggressive.”

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.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.


  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group