Congress wants answers on clearance for alleged Navy Yard killer

US Capitol

Legislators are seeking answers about how Aaron Alexis, the alleged perpetrator of the Sept. 16 Navy Yard mass shooting, was able to obtain and maintain a security clearance despite repeated run-ins with the law and other warning signs.

A bipartisan group of senators on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee sent a letter asking the Inspector General of the Office of Personnel Management whether a private contractor or the Federal Investigative Services investigated Alexis's background before extending his military clearance to his private sector work, and if those investigations took into account reported arrests.

The letter was signed by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jon Tester (D-Mt.), who are sponsoring legislation designed to beef up accountability for contractors conducting background checks by giving the OPM inspector general authority to tap the agency's revolving fund to pay for oversight and investigations. That bill, dubbed the SCORE Act, was authored in the wake of revelations that USIS, the firm that conducted the background check on former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, was itself under investigation for fraud.

"Monday's tragic attack shows once again why we need to increase oversight of the process by which individuals gain access to our nation's most sensitive data and to our most secure facilities. Too many folks are slipping through the cracks. They are not just threatening our national security, but our personal security as well. Congress needs to quickly pass our bipartisan legislation to reform to the background check system and finally allow OPM's Inspector General to conduct meaningful oversight of the security clearance process," Tester said in an e-mailed statement.

On the House side, a trio of Homeland Security Committee Democrats wants hearings to examine the process by which security clearances are granted. Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) wrote that the mass shooting "raises a number of serious questions that Congress must address to restore confidence in the security measures that are intended to protect our Nation's dedicated Federal workforce." 

President Obama has directed the Office of Management and Budget to review the clearance process, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is in the midst of another review spawned by the Snowden leaks of classified material. Defense Department officials are also reviewing the clearance process, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sept. 18.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said in his Sept. 18 briefing that it was unknown whether mandatory budget cuts were taking a toll on the clearance process.

"I'm not aware of any impacts one way or the other of sequestration on background check systems or security systems," Carney said. "These are all under review as a general matter by the DNI and by the OMB. And I imagine that that piece of it will be taken into account."

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, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

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

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Reader comments

Fri, Sep 20, 2013

So if the answer is to tighten security clearance procedures so he can't go nuts on base... where will he go nuts? Once again we're charging ahead with treating the symptom rather than the cause. And I'm not referring to the guns, I'm referring to the nut case that clearly should not be allowed to legally purchase a weapon.

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