On 30 June 2008 President Bush issued Executive Order 13467, which establishes a governance security clearance structure and a legal basis for major changes to the government’s personnel security program. It directs that the existing disparate processes for employment suitability, public trust, and security clearances be aligned into a unified coherent structure.

The E.O. gives the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) as the new “Security Executive Agent” sole responsibility over security and public trust clearance processing. Responsibilities formerly assigned to the Security Policy Board (SPB) under E.O. 12968 and responsibilities formerly assigned to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under E.O. 13381 have been reassigned to the DNI. More importantly the DNI was given unilateral authority to carry out these responsibilities.  Under the earlier executive orders the SPB only had authority to recommend policy changes to the President through the President’s National Security Advisor, and OMB had to obtain the concurrence of other cabinet level officials in order to change policy. The DNI now has authority to: 1) develop government-wide policies on security clearance and sensitive position investigations and adjudication, 2) decide who will do the investigations, and 3) decide who will adjudicate the investigations and issue the clearances. This presents a significant opportunity to consolidate the separate investigative and adjudicative entities currently used by numerous Intelligence Community (IC) and other federal agencies. Consolidation of these functions would greatly simplify reciprocity of clearances and facilitate the movement of cleared personnel from one agency to another. Although the new E.O. enables the DNI to make sweeping changes to the current system; it leaves much to the DNI’s discretion.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was designated the “Suitability Executive Agent.” Its responsibilities and authority for federal employment suitability investigations and determinations remains essentially unchanged. OPM was given the additional responsibility for investigations and determinations related to “logical and physical access” to federal facilities and information systems. This new responsibility covers the standards used for implementing Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12.

The new executive order also created the “Suitability and Security Clearance Performance Accountability Council.” The Council, chaired by OMB’s Deputy Director for Management, was given: 1) authority over the design of computer systems for personnel security processing and 2) authority to issue policy to insure the alignment of suitability and security processes. The council will report directly to president.

E.O. 13467 authorizes continuous evaluation of personnel who hold active security clearances (this will include the use of new commercial and government databases) and authorizes security clearance adjudication using automated procedures (eAdjudication). The concept of “continuous evaluation” involves automated checks on Top Secret clearance holders once a year and on Secret/Confidential clearance holders once every five years—instead of the current Periodic Reinvestigations that are done at 5-, 10-, and 15-year intervals. A program, known as ACES (Automated Continuous Evaluation System) previously developed by DoD’s Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC), will be used “as is” or in some modified form for this purpose. PERSEREC also developed what is known as Automated Decision Support (ADS). This program was designed to review and adjudicate investigations for Secret clearances where little or no unfavorable information is present. It will be the basis for eAdjudication of about 25 percent of all Secret clearances.

Developing a new government-wide computer system will take the most time to complete and will be the pacing factor for implementing a new personnel security process.

To accomplish the objectives of E.O. 13467 the four different forms currently used (SF85, SF85P, SF85PS, and SF86) for suitability and security processing need to be modified or reduced to one form. One of the limitations of the current system is that an investigation based on any form other than the SF86 is not sufficient for granting a security clearance regardless of how thorough the investigation is. Position sensitivity levels will also need to be restructured and simplified. Currently there are six sensitivity levels with level 4, 5, and 6 each having three separate sublevels depending on special duties, polygraph requirements, whether a national security clearance is needed in conjunction with Public Trust clearance, and whether the clearances are for contractors or government employees.

Although the scope and period of coverage for new clearance investigations have not yet been decided; it seems likely that for initial Top Secret clearances some sort of phased investigation similar to that currently authorized for Single Scope Background Investigation Periodic Reinvestigations (SSBI-PR) will be used. This will probably consist of an Automated Records Check (ARC) involving essentially the same databases used in ACES and an automated review of the clearance application form, followed by a Personal Subject Interview and employment reference and record checks covering only the most recent few years. If unfavorable information surfaces from any of these “Phase One” components of the investigation, the information will be evaluated against a matrix of issues/recency. If a matrix threshold is met, additional “Phase Two” field investigation components will be conducted appropriate to the unfavorable issue information. Initial investigations for Confidential/Secret clearances will probably only include an automated clearance application review and an ARC. An issue-specific Subject Interview and additional issue-relevant field investigative checks would be added to the investigation when unfavorable information present on the application form or surfaced during the ARC meets an issue-matrix threshold. Continuous Evaluation for all levels of clearances will probably be limited to review of a new clearance application form and an ARC.

The scope and reliability of the ARC are critical to this new process.  Much time and effort are now being expended by field investigators in states that do not allow OPM and other investigative agencies computer access to state-level criminal history record systems.  Strong federal legislation may be required to force these states to grant computer access to these records, so that the existence of criminal history record information can be checked without requiring field investigators to visit individual police departments.  Commercial databases to be accessed by the ARC will include court, financial, real estate, and business records.

Congress mandated that a new clearance system be ready for implementation by January 2009.  Some demonstration projects of sub-systems have been completed and their results analyzed by the Joint Suitability and Security Reform Team.  If the new system is ready by January 2009, full implementation could take a year or more.

Copyright © 2008 Last Post Publishing. All rights reserved. William H. Henderson is a retired security investigator, author of Security Clearance Manual, and regular contributor to ClearanceJobsBlog.com and ClearanceJobs.com.

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William H. Henderson is a retired federal clearance investigator, President of Federal Clearance Assistance Service (FEDCAS), author of Security Clearance Manual, Issue Mitigation Handbook, and a regular contributor to ClearanceJobsBlog.com and ClearanceJobs.com.