This morning, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security convened top officials to testify on revisions to the nation’s security clearance system in response to the Navy Yard Shooting. Senators questioned how Aaron Alexis, a cleared defense contractor, remained under the radar despite suspicious activity and law enforcement run-ins prior to killing 12 individuals at Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard in September.
“Our system is obviously broken,” said Ranking Committee Member Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).
While the Office of Personnel Management has reviewed Alexis’ background check and confirmed that all applicable standards were complied with when completing his investigation in 2007, agencies are still scrambling to provide Congress with recommendations for reform.
Increasing the frequency of reinvestigations to assess an individual’s continuing eligibility for a security clearance is one proposal by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Currently, reinvestigations are conducted every five years for Top Secret clearances or every ten years for Secret clearances.
“Continuous Evaluation (CE) is a tool that will assist in closing this information gap….CE, as envisioned in the reformed security clearance process, includes automated records checks of commercial databases, government databases, and other information lawfully available,” outlined ODNI. “Manual checks are inefficient and resource intensive.”
ODNI also supports the implementation of “National Training Standards” to create uniform training criteria for background investigators, national security adjudicators, and suitability adjudicators.
Yesterday four Senators introduced a bipartisan bill to bolster the clearance process through an “enhanced security clearance system” to aggregate and store each applicant’s personal information. The bill would also require review of the cleared individual at least two times every five years.
President Obama ordered the Office of Management and Budget to complete a 120-day review of contractor fitness determinations, scheduled to begin next week. Relevant agencies will examine their current ability to identify potentially disruptive applicants, and evaluate their methods of collecting, sharing and storing applicants’ information. The release of their initial findings and recommendations is slated for mid-February.