Editorial: Beyond the Band-Aid

The industry security clearance process has had problems almost from the time it started. There is a perpetual backlog of applications, which has driven up costs to both industry and government agencies.

The story took a dramatic turn on April 28 when the Defense Department announced that it would not conduct additional security clearances because the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office has, essentially, run out of money for such actions. Curiously, that announcement came late on a Friday afternoon with little warning.

It was just the latest and most visible indication that the program is troubled. Vendors have been paying a high premium for people with security clearances, and those high costs have to be passed along to agencies.

It is essential to remember that vendors are seeking these clearances because they are trying to address agency security needs and concerns. And these clearances are probably very important given the natural concerns the government has about security and given that more and more work is being done by contractors.

Even DOD officials acknowledge that the program has had difficulties. Robert Rogalski, special assistant to the undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, testified last week before the House Government Reform Committee that the Defense Security Service had submitted 100,000 requests to the Office of Personnel Management for industry investigations before they were halted.

“Based on current projections, we anticipate submitting an additional 100,000 industry investigations” this fiscal year, he said.

Rogalski all but said the program has been mismanaged, and he said senior leadership is now focused on fixing the problem.

But there must be a wholesale look at how the program works. Industry officials noted that these applications are largely processed the same way they were when Dwight Eisenhower was president. And there are some simple fixes. Currently, applicants can submit their applications electronically, but they cannot submit their fingerprints or signatures electronically.

If this program is important — and we believe it is — it is time to look at fixing its problems once and for all.

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