GAO: DOD needs to improve security clearance timeliness, quality

The Defense Department needs to continue improving the speed and quality of the process for issuing security clearances, according to a draft Government Accountability Office report released Dec. 22.

DOD, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Personnel Management made significant progress in fiscal 2008 in reducing the time required to evaluate security clearance applications, said Brenda Farrell, director of defense capabilities and management at GAO. DOD reached a decision on 80 percent of the security clearances in less than 120 days, and the average was 87 days, Farrell said. However, many of the applications were missing at least one type of documentation, she added.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires agencies to make a determination on at least 90 percent of security clearance applications within 60 days by December 2009.

In fiscal 2008, DOD said it approved 630,000 initial or renewal clearances for confidential, secret or top-secret status requested by military, civilian and contractor personnel. GAO measured the timeliness and quality of 448,255 security clearances in 2008 for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office.

OPM’s investigators conduct most of DOD’s clearance investigations, and DOD adjudicators use their reports to make eligibility decisions, GAO said. DOD’s security clearance program has been on GAO’s high-risk list since 2005 because of delays and incomplete documentation for first-time top-secret clearance applications, according to the report. GAO will release a more detailed report in 2009.

DOD does not share all of GAO’s concerns, although James Clapper, undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, said in his response to the report that GAO’s observations on the quality and timeliness of the DOD personnel security program are fair. As of October, DOD had improved its performance to an average of 76 days to process security clearances, Clapper said.

He added that for positions that are critical to fill, DOD collects preliminary information on applicants to evaluate their risk level. That approach includes considering national guidelines for adjudication, reviewing local security and personnel files, and checking FBI fingerprint files, he said.

DOD also plans to enhance its Joint Personnel Adjudication System by the end of 2009. The system will standardize the documentation process throughout the department, Clapper said. DOD developed applications that assess the quality of investigations and the accuracy of documentation for adjudication, and the department will deploy those tools next year, he said.

DOD will likely be unable to meet the 2009 requirement of 60 days using the existing clearance process, DOD and OPM officials said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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