Frivolous security clearances could diminish government transparency

A report concluding that federal agencies need better defined policy to determine whether a position requires a security clearance is getting support from a senator who says demanding unnecessary clearances could waste resources and reduce government transparency.

On behalf of a request by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security, the Government Accountability Office set out to assess federal policies and practices for identifying positions that require security clearances. GAO also analyzed whether a consistent and effective security clearance requirements determination process had been implemented.

According to the resulting report, there is a lack of standards for requiring security clearances for government jobs. GAO also found that the director of national intelligence has failed to provide executive branch agencies with solid policy and procedures for determining if federal civilian positions need a security clearance. Without clear guidance from the DNI, agencies can’t create consistent and uniform policies, GAO said.

Executive branch agencies currently use a position designation tool the Office of Personnel and Management developed. The tool is determine the sensitivity level of civilian positions and informs the type of background investigation needed if a clearance is necessary. The DNI, however, wasn’t involved in the development of the tool, something GAO said had led to “mixed views on the effectiveness of the tool for national security positions.”

The increase of unnecessary security clearance requirements has been a costly business for the government, Thompson said. The executive branch alone spent $1 billion on background investigations in fiscal year 2011 for suitability and security clearances. As of 2011, more than 4.8 million federal government and contractor employees held or were eligible for a clearance.

“While we must always first ensure that national security is protected, we must also ensure that artificial barriers to employment are not created in the federal government," Thompson said. "While demanding unnecessary clearances could lead to a waste of precious resources, it could also unfortunately be a signal of a less open government.”

GAO recommended in its report that DNI work with the head of OPM to issue clearly defined policy and procedures, modify the position designation tool to adhere to that guidance, and issue direction to require executive branch agencies to periodically evaluate federal civilian positions to validate or amend the need for a security clearance.

 

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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