Rx for security clearance delays

6 steps to reforms

A plan developed by the Joint Security and Suitability Reform Team to speed the security clearance process relies on technology resources that weren’t available when the process was devised 50 years ago. Here are the major aspects of the reform plan.

1. Collecting and validating relevant information at the beginning of the clearance process electronically, whenever possible.

2. Using automation to make the process faster, reduce manual activity and leverage additional data sources.

3. Focusing field investigative activity on collecting and validating targeted information.

4. Using modern analytic methods to make decisions.

5. Reducing duplication of requests and ensuring consistent quality and standards.

6. Replacing periodic reinvestigations with continuous evaluation techniques and using frequent automated database checks.

A team of government agencies laid out a broad proposal last week for security clearance reforms in which technology would play a major role.

The Office of Management and Budget, part of the Joint Security and Suitability Reform Team, unveiled a plan to expedite hiring and security clearances for federal employees and contractors. In February, President Bush ordered the security team to submit a governmentwide proposal for streamlining the security clearance process by April 30.

The proposal represents a basic outline for modernizing the process and is intended to lay the foundation for more specific reforms in the next administration, said Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management. “We have been making security clearance determinations the same way for 50 years, and it’s time to change the way we do that,” he said.

The proposal calls for an automated system to speed the clearances process, reduce  work done manually and integrate additional data sources. One component of the plan is a Web-based application to speed the acquisition of biographical data required at the beginning of the clearance process. A project plan for developing this application will be completed later this year, Johnson said.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a proponent of security clearance reform, praised  the plan. However, he said implementing the proposal would be a challenge.

“We can’t afford to allow the paper-bound status quo to stumble along nibbling at festering backlogs any longer,” Davis said. “The research, validation and pilot programs called for in this report…should be accelerated and expanded. This process needs to be invested with a momentum that makes reform inevitable and irreversible.”

Industry officials said they generally liked the proposal.

“It’s very short on details, but it includes all the major pieces that we’ve being advocating” since the National Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, said Trey Hodgkins, vice president of  federal government programs at the Information Technology Association of America.

“It’s got end-to-end automation, it’s got an improved application process that’s going to capture the pieces electronically, and it’s got enhanced use of government and commercial databases to try and eliminate a lot of the legwork that’s done,” Hodgkins said. “This aligns very nicely with what industry believed was the way to move this forward to make some real change,” he added.

A central element in the proposal is creating an executive branch governance organization to guide the reform effort for the rest of the year and ensure that it is under way before the next administration takes office in January. A governance structure will be formalized by June 30, Johnson said.

“The next administration is going to be very focused and very busy standing up their administration,” Johnson said. “We are best equipped to get these reform efforts launched while we’re here so that the focus is on the implementation of those reforms going forward, and no progress, impetus or pace will be lost with the change in administrations.”

In addition to OMB, the team included representatives from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Defense Department,  Office of Personnel Management, and Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. 

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