Key lawmakers impatient for security clearance reform

Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who oversee the federal security clearance program, criticized a recent reform proposal for being skimpy. The 10-page proposal delivered to President Bush in April “is still short on much detail,” Akaka said at a Senate subcommittee hearing May 22.

However, several members of the team that prepared the proposal and who testified at the hearing said it represents a blueprint for significant change in the security clearance process. The proposed reforms are “based on the use of modern investigative tools, end-to-end information technology, a risk management philosophy, and efficient, standardized business practices,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Special Security Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Akaka and Voinovich, chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's subcommittee on government oversight, expressed concern that the clearance process does not rely more on electronic file transfers and readily available commercial record checks.

“There is far too much manual activity going on in the clearance process today,” Akaka said.

Beth McGrath, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for business transformation, said the reform proposal, which she helped write, has provisions for automated reference checks. However, she said, the IT strategy for clearance reform won’t be completed until fall or later.

Voinovich said he was frustrated that the security clearance program is on the high-risk list maintained by the Government Accountability Office, and he feared it would still be on the list in 2009. He asked what it would take to get the program off the high-risk list.

Brenda Farrell, director of defense capabilities and management at GAO, said the reforms must do more than further improve the timeliness of clearance investigations. She added that the Office of Personnel Management must develop timeliness and quality metrics for all six phases of the clearance process — from the request, application and investigation portions to the adjudication, appeals and renewal phases.

Securing funding for the IT portions of the reform plan is another important achievement that GAO will consider when weighing whether to take the security clearance program off the high-risk list, Farrell said.

Kathy Dillaman, associate director of OPM’s Federal Investigative Services Division, said OPM has already incorporated many of the additional metrics that Farrell mentioned. Dillaman also said OPM’s program has adequate money in its $500 million revolving fund to bring commercial IT into the clearance process.

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