Sequestration’s impact on the intelligence community will fall significantly on the national security workforce, warns director of national intelligence James Clapper. Personnel arenas that will fall victim to federal budget cuts include recruiting, diversity programs and the security clearance process, Clapper said at a recent press briefing.
Security clearance processing times have improved in recent years, but Clapper warns that progress could easily be lost due to sequestration’s budget cuts. Clapper said 90 percent of clearances today are processed within 74 days, down from an average of 374 days in 2004. Background investigators are already facing pressure to process more cases faster, if the Office of Personnel Management is forced to cut investigators or contracts, employees awaiting clearance investigations could feel the impact.
The security clearance process has already been identified as one arena for cost savings, with the Air Force suspending updates to security clearance investigations. Clapper noted that extending the amount of time between investigations is another area they’re looking at for cost savings, despite the inherent risk. Security clearance investigations fall under the ‘operations and maintenance’ budgets that are getting the most scrutiny, as both the military and IC look to preserve funds for overseas operations and programs deemed critical to national security. Another area that could backtrack thanks to budget cuts is reciprocity. Consistently identified as an area of potential cost savings, the government continues to struggle with even defining what reciprocity is.
“We are struggling a bit with coming up with metrics. Here’s the problem: every clearance transaction involving somebody, is that a reciprocity? If I show up and go visit DIA and they let me in, does that count as a reciprocity transaction?” Clapper said. “well, there are millions of those. I’m supposed to have a bean counter around to count all these reciprocity transactions. But that’s the problem we run into on how do you measure reciprocity and improvements in it?”
When it comes to workforce furloughs, Clapper said his office was still looking into the appropriations bill to determine if they will be necessary. He noted that each of the 17 intelligence agencies (including his office) would be making decisions on furloughs based on their own appropriations.