Government agencies are increasingly under fire for their security clearance practices, and a Government Accountability Office report released this much is calling for an audit on the number and levels of security clearances issued.
According to the GAO, confusion about how to determine which positions require access to classified information as well as a lack of audits to determine if positions continue to require access, are likely resulting in unnecessary costs and more individuals with access to classified information.
In the post-9/11 era demand for individuals with security clearances began to increase dramatically. As demand for those individuals increased, backlogs quickly became a problem and the timeline for processing security clearances was lengthy. The Director of National Intelligence became the entity responsible for background investigations and adjudications, as the Security Executive Agent, but hasn’t exercised that oversight in the clearance determination process.
The GAO report laid blame on DNI for not embracing its authority in the security clearance process, or overseeing the OPM tool for determining the sensitivity of positions – the Position Designation for National Security and Public Trust. While human capital professionals interviewed by the GAO said they were largely using the tool, there was confusion about the process. In addition, DNI was held accountable for not creating a process for reviewing or evaluating a position to determine if it still requires access to classified information. A position may have needed a clearance in years past but may not require it today.
Members of congress are looking to cut budgets wherever possible, and the security clearance process has clearly been red-flagged. In congressional testimony earlier this month Gene Dodoro, comptroller general of the GAO, noted that downgrading clearances and eliminating clearances in positions where they’re not necessary would be critical.
“There’s a huge difference in the amount of money that’s used to implement a top secret versus a secret clearance,” Dodoro said.
“For fiscal year 2012 OPM’s standard base prices are $4,005 for an initial investigation of a top secret clearance, $2,711 for an investigation to renew a top secret clearance, and either $228 or $260 for an investigation for a secret clearance. As we reported in February 2012, these base prices can increase if triggered by the circumstances of a case, such as issues related to credit or criminal history checks,” noted Dodoro’s testimony. “Further, the cost of getting and maintaining a top secret clearance for 10 years is almost 30 times greater than the cost of getting and maintaining a secret clearance for the same period.”
What does this mean for security cleared professionals? Audits of cleared positions may result in some individuals losing their coveted clearance, as the position they work in loses its clearance designation. For TS clearance holders, a re-designation to secret would also not likely come as welcome news, as many individuals who may not currently be working in a “top secret” capacity often look to retain their clearance for future use.
Long-term, an audit of security-cleared positions would likely increase the value of possessing one, and individuals who do cleared work on a daily basis or require access to the nation’s secrets don’t need to worry about a Bob coming and kicking them out of their SCIF. When it comes to cleared professionals, a comprehensive audit of positions or reform of position designation criteria could bode well for secret clearance holders. In the post-9/11 era, with a deluge of positions requiring a clearance designation even if the work itself doesn’t support it, the “value” of a secret clearance in the workplace, while still higher than not possessing one, has been nominal. If audits take place as the GAO is recommending, secret clearance holders may see increased salary potential, but fewer open positions.
Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves cybersecurity, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.