Intelligence

Security clearances dip in 2015

Shutterstock image: shadowed hacker.

The number of federal employees and contractors with security clearances dropped by nearly 6 percent in fiscal 2015 as adjudicators made better use of data, according to a new report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

About 4.25 million employees and contractors had clearances as of the end of fiscal 2015 -- 265,523 less than the previous year, the ODNI report states. Those figures include everyone who was eligible to access classified information, whether or not they accessed it.

Most of the drop in clearances came because of the Defense Department's implementation of data quality initiatives that included syncing disparate personnel databases, according to ODNI.

In one example, the interface between DOD's Joint Personnel Adjudication System and another repository was faulty and had to be fixed to resolve discrepancies in records. In another initiative, adjudicators weeded out would-be clearance holders by following up on a data field indicating whether someone is a U.S. citizen, which is a clearance requirement.

The scope of the ODNI report hinted at the interoperability challenge inherent in security clearance reform: The study drew from repositories at ODNI, DOD and the Office of Personnel Management.

Fiscal 2015 was a mixed bag in terms of how quickly clearances were processed. Processing times for the longest cases decreased at some agencies, although other reporting showed that average processing times had increased, the report states. In general, there are also more cases pending over four months than in fiscal 2014.

"The [intelligence community] reported that the continued focus on periodic reinvestigations and potential insider threat cases during FY 2015 caused resources to be reprioritized," the report states.

A broader trend

Another explanation for the decline in clearances is an ongoing effort across the government to review which employees and contractors need access to classified information, according to the report.

The Obama administration sought to tighten the background-check process in the aftermath of leaks of classified information by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, and the 2013 Navy Yard shooting by an IT contractor with a security clearance.

A 2011 executive order from President Barack Obama set up an interagency process for improving the government's safeguarding of classified information. Officials from the White House and intelligence agencies, among others, are responsible for setting governmentwide goals for improvement.

The ODNI report reflects a broader trend: In the past three years, the number of DOD employees and contractors with security clearances has dropped by 20 percent, according to data the Office of Management and Budget published in March.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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