Senate bill would increase oversight of clearance process

capitol dome

A bipartisan group of senators have introduced legislation that would make it easier to fire federal workers and debar contractors involved in misconduct concerning security clearance investigations, while providing a funding stream for investigations into such misconduct.

The Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act, sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), arose from a recent Senate hearing at which it was revealed that the firm that conducted the background investigation into NSA leaker Edward Snowden is the target of a federal probe. Additionally, the Office of the Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management, which is conducting the investigation, has to scrape together funding because it is not allowed access to OPM's revolving fund, into which agencies requiring background checks for employees must pay.

The SCORE Act allows the OPM IG to use money from the revolving fund for audits, investigations and oversight of security clearance process. The bill also permits the firing or debarment of individuals working on clearance investigations if a "preponderance of the evidence," indicates their involvement with fraud, report falsification, failure to review a report, abuse of authority, or impersonating a federal officer in the conduct of a background investigation.

Finally, the bill requires the director of national intelligence to submit guidance to all federal agencies about which positions require an employee to possess a security clearance, and to review those classifications as duties change.

"Recent events force us to take a close look at what the federal government is doing in the name of national security and how well we are protecting classified information," said Tester, who heads the Subcommittee on Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce. "This bill gives investigators the tools they need to hold folks accountable and protect our national security."

The four senators also sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office seeking information on whether the Department of Defense, the Performance and Accountability Council (a counterintelligence group involved in setting standards for vetting federal employees and contractors) and OPM are on the same page when it comes to clearance standards, and to find out if those standards can be harmonized.

The legislators also want GAO to report on whether standards used by investigators are up to date and complete, how the quality of those investigations is tracked, and what sorts of action agencies have taken against employees or contractors for poorly conducted investigations.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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