Security

Senate bill calls for more frequent clearance re-checks

Washington Navy Yard

Would a new bill have prevented the deadly shooting rampage in September at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard?

Holders of security clearances would be subject to more frequent audits under bipartisan legislation introduced Oct. 30 by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

Coming less than two months after the deadly Navy Yard shooting, the measure would require two random audits during the five year period of active security clearances held by federal employees and contractors. Any red flags would be relayed to the employing agency, which would decide whether to conduct an investigation.

"If random audits had been in place after [Navy Yard shooter] Aaron Alexis's secret clearance was granted in 2007, red flags would have been generated with his arrest in 2009 and the two liens on his property, which could indicate potential excessive financial hardship," Collins, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "Further, it may have identified a potential alias with a vast social media trail indicating other concerning traits."

The move is part of a broader effort to strengthen oversight on the security clearance process that was underway before the Navy Yard shooting, as a result of leaks of classified information by Army Private Bradley Manning and intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

In the midst of the partial government shutdown, the Senate passed a measure that would allow the inspector general in the Office of Personnel Management to tap the agency's $2 billion revolving fund to conduct investigations of background checks.

That bill was broken out of a larger measure dubbed the Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act, which would also authorize  OPM to debar or fire background check investigators who falsify reports, and require the federal government to create new clarity on which positions require security clearances.

Separately, the Justice Department is intervening in a whistleblower lawsuit against United States Investigations Services, the private firm that manages 45 percent of the security clearance investigative work for OPM. The lawsuit alleges that USIS didn't perform quality control checks on its clearance investigations.

"We will not tolerate shortcuts taken by companies that we have entrusted with vetting individuals to be given access to our country's sensitive and secret information," Stewart F. Delery, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Division, said in a statement.

The Collins bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Clare McCaskill (D-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). It picked up support from the Federal Managers Association, several law enforcement groups, the AFL-CIO and the technology trade association TechAmerica.

In a letter supporting the bill, Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for Global Public Sector at TechAmerica, noted that the promise of clearance reform legislation enacted in  had yet to be realized. What remains to be done, he wrote, is "further utilization of technology and government and consumer databases to create an end-to-end automated application, investigation, evaluation, approval and monitoring tool for the better management of persons with access to classified information."

About the Authors

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 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 About.com 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.


Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Mon, Nov 4, 2013 X-BI

I worked for OPM's Personnel Investigations Division in the 1980's and even the FBI acknowledged that we did a better job on BI's than they did. But, the writing was on the wall, more and more BI's were going to contractors, so I got out. The end result is what we have today...

Fri, Nov 1, 2013

Background investigations done by low-bid contractors? What part of 'inherently governmental' do they not grasp? Clearance process should be standardized Fed-wide, including DoD, and provided as a common service by government investigators.

Fri, Nov 1, 2013 Bill Los Alamos

Sounds like a great idea, but are they going to use the same people who do the background checks to perform the random checks and where is the funding going to come from? It takes quite a while to get a clearance. If more investigators are not hired, the time required to complete a background check will be completely unacceptable.

Fri, Nov 1, 2013

We don't need more frequent checks, we need continuous monitoring.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group