Security clearance process needs new ideas

Agency working group issues RFI for industry to offer alternatives to current procedures

The Band-Aid approach to fixing the federal security clearance process hasn’t worked.

After more than 30 years of throwing money and people at the problem, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget have teamed to seek a long-term solution for what they say is a laborious and faulty security clearance process.

ODNI is leading a working group that will submit recommendations to senior agency officials by the end of August. The group will suggest new policy, procedures and technology options for meeting a December 2009 statutory deadline for speedier security clearances, specifically for secret and top-secret investigations.

“There are many opportunities and a lot of effort across government to make improvements to specific segments of the process within the operational environment, but we need to think about what we can do in the future and what would a transformed process look like,” said John Fitzpatrick, ODNI’s director of special security center.

The Air Force, which is acting as the procurement arm for ODNI, DOD and OMB, published a request for information last week to solicit ideas from industry for improving the security clearance process.

The working group, which includes ODNI, DOD and the Office of Personnel Management, will ask senior leaders to move to Phase 2 of the security clearance review, Fitzpatrick said. Under Phase 2, the working group will develop a draft process-flow model and look at the policy and procedural implications and challenges of moving to a new clearance process.

The RFI could turn into a request for proposals, and the working group could have a proof of concept in place by December 2008, Fitzpatrick said.

The RFI states that agencies process about 1 million background investigations and adjudications for security clearances annually, and although there are standards, processes and tools vary considerably.

Clearance delays caused Congress to pass a provision in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004 that requires a speedier security clearance process. The law gives agencies until December 2009 to be in a position to complete 90 percent of all clearance investigations in 40 days and adjudications in 20 days.

“It’s been clear to many of us for some time the entire system needs to be re-engineered,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “This RFI tells me OMB, DOD and the intelligence community are finally speaking with one voice on the need for a scalable, modern approach.”

OPM’s latest clearance figures show that the time it takes to process security clearances is improving.

Kathy Dillaman, OPM’s associate director of investigations, said the average time it takes to complete 80 percent of the investigations has dropped to 73 days, which is half the time it took a year ago.

Evan Lesser, founder and director of Clearancejobs.com, said the RFI and other activities are signs that government is finally admitting it needs industry’s help.

“There needs to be a larger solution and something that is fresh,” Lesser said.

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