TheConversation

Blog archive

Behind clearance reform, a struggle in data collection

fingerprint

Our Jan. 29 story, “Security clearance reform: more questions than answers,” drew responses that reiterated the central point made in the piece. Some readers wrote in with their own experience with the clearance process, while others raised the issue of Edward Snowden's cleared access that ultimately led to his leaking a trove of classified materials. The most common sentiment, however, centered on just how difficult it is to find the right information to begin with.

Ray W. wrote: I have a friend who is an investigator for one of the private firms. He was complaining that he gets investigations that are months old, sometimes close to a year, and is expected to complete the background in a week or two. This often requires travel to many states (and out west there is a LOT of distance between Montana and Texas) which cuts into the investigation time. ... The mentioned sharing of data is good for security, but that does not obviate the need to walk around asking references about the person and finding other people that are not references to go find out more and to get away from coached answers (for my first clearance in 1970, I was told that the investigator only asked my references who else I knew, and then went and asked those other people questions).

Amber Corrin responds: The amount of time it takes to conduct a thorough background investigation is one of the many issues crippling the current process, given that roughly 5 million people hold a security clearance of some kind. How do you walk around and get references on every single one of those people even once, let alone on a recurring basis? But then again, when it comes to national security, how do you not?

Of course, Manning, Snowden and Alexis all prove that the process failed at some point in the chain of events that go into obtaining a security clearance. Somewhere along the line, critical information failed to be discovered, whether it was a case of information not being shared or being obscured altogether – or something in between.

"We're talking as if one impediment that does not exist is access to data – but that's not true. Whether you're a contractor or federal agency, there are all kinds of databases that either don't exist and should, or that are unavailable to you," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said at the Jan. 28 Congressional Smart Contracting Caucus event in Washington.

According to Brenda Farrell, director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office, another major problem is poor documentation, including when a background check is incomplete: Often there are no details on why information is missing, she said, such as an inability to make contact with the person being investigated.

"That would help OPM make determinations where there are weaknesses or where they might put more [resources] ... or where it might be acceptable to not have documentation," Farrell said. "We do know more about the adjudication process because it is better documented by some of the agencies. But that investigative piece is still a mystery."

Posted by Amber Corrin on Feb 03, 2014 at 12:27 PM


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

Wed, Feb 5, 2014

What piece of data was missing from Snowden's security clearance investigation that would have revealed his intention to leak? In general, how does "data" solve the problem of this kind?

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