Security clearance backlog continues to drop

Senate Intel leaders praised efforts by government to get its backlog of active security clearance adjudications under control, but want to see the system support more diversity.

Shutterstock photo id 669226093 By Gorodenkoff
 

After a closed-door hearing on Jan. 22, the leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence praised efforts by government to get its backlog of active security clearance adjudications under control, but want to see the system support more diversity among intelligence community recruits.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the committee chairman, said he was pleased to see that the clearance investigation backlog has dropped from 725,000 cases in early 2018 to 231,000. That represents an improvement even over the figure of 249,000 active cases reported by the White House in December.

The President's Management Agenda sets a caseload of 200,000 active investigations as its "steady-state inventory target."

National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina said in his opening statement, obtained by FCW, that the speed of investigations has improved, with secret investigations speeding up by 55% and a 60% improvement in the on-time rate for top secret investigations.

However, Burr also wants to see the intelligence community do a better job of supporting the applications and investigations of foreign-born candidates and children of immigrants.

"The delays disproportionately affect first or second generation Americans -- folks who possess deep cultural understanding and diverse perspectives that are invaluable in the IC," Burr said in a statement. "Our system should be equipped to welcome a patriotic, first-generation Chinese-American who has spoken Mandarin since she was a child, while at the same time excluding the Edward Snowdens of the world who would put our nation's safety at risk."

Burr and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the committee's vice chairman, called on the leaders of the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to implement the Trusted Workforce 2.0 program, which includes the establishment of the continuous vetting of security clearance holders.

"We need a revolution in how the executive branch thinks about security clearance reform and personnel vetting for those charged with safeguarding our nation’s most sensitive secrets," Warner said.

In his remarks, Evanina said "change is already taking place" with the implementation of Trusted Workforce 2.0.

"New vetting policies, such as updated investigative standards and adjudicative guidelines, will be in coordination this calendar year, with implementation taking place in late 2022," Evanana said. The program will be supported with "next generation IT" including "a new position designation tool and an electronic application capability," he added.

Evanina also said ODNI had put a continuous evaluation system into effect that so far covers 300,000 people across 26 departments and agencies. That's up from an enrolled population of 29,000 in November 2018, according to the latest Performance.gov update. The system "provides automated flags and alerts encompassing seven federally required data categories."

These categories aren't public, but in past hearings and public statements, lawmakers and security officials have said that they're looking for financial anomalies, criminal charges and other red flags.

An ODNI spokesperson said the process involves "automated records checks of commercial databases, U.S. government databases and other information lawfully available to security officials," and involves information that is reviewed as part of clearance investigations.

Evanina characterized the growth of continuous evaluation as "extremely important," and said the program "is a cornerstone of this clearance reform effort that will radically transform the security clearance process."

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