Clearance process concerns CBP official

Slow security clearance processes and a lack of reciprocity between agencies are major inefficiencies that have huge unseen costs for agencies and contractors, Customs and Border Protection’s acting information technology chief told a group of industry executives today.

Ken Ritchhart, acting assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Information and Technology and chief information officer, said some improvements have been made to the security clearance process since the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, but the process still takes too long.

“There’s a huge cost for government personnel, it’s a huge cost for contractors who have to try to bring folks on board and then take a year to get their clearances done,” he said. “Plus the reinvestigation activities...those are huge unseen costs.”

Ritchhart spoke at a breakfast hosted by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council. He will return to his role as CBP’s deputy CIO next month when Charlie Armstrong takes over as CBP’s CIO.

Ritchhart also said it would be hard to imagine a more inefficient system than the current one.

The 2004 law aimed to improve reciprocity among agencies by having the Office of Personnel Management oversee a database with background information from various federal agencies. Lawmakers and Bush administration officials said there's a need for further reform to streamline and standardize the process.

OPM handles 90 percent of the background investigations for agencies. However, some agencies, such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency, manage their own processes.

In response to a request from President Bush, the so-called Joint Security and Suitability Reform Team — which consists of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Defense Department, OPM, the Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and the Office of Management and Budget — released an initial plan to reform the process on April 30.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia Subcommittee held a hearing on that plan today.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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