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 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.

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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.

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