The U.S. Government is looking to scrub its list of security-clearance holders, in an effort to clamp down on classified information in the wake of the Edward Snowden scandal and other high-profile leaks. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is questioning the nearly 5 million individuals with active security clearances, including more than 1.4 million ‘Top Secret’ level security clearances.
“I write to express my concern about threats to national security resulting from the increasing number of people with eligibility for access to classified national security information, particularly Top Secret (TS) and Top Secret/Secure Compartmented Information (TS/SCI),” Clapper wrote in a three-page memo obtained by POLITICO. In the memo Clapper asks agencies to conduct a security clearance review, but does not offer a deadline for completion. In congressional testimony this week, however, a Clapper aide noted that agencies had until the end of January to complete the review.
ODNI isn’t the only agency scrutinizing the clearance process. The 2014 Defense Authorization bill includes provisions to increase the frequency of periodic reinvestigations, as well as improve technology used in the background check process. The Office of Management and Budget is currently in the midst of a 120-day ‘suitability and security processes’ review. And in the same congressional testimony where ODNI’s clearance audits was discussed, officials referenced a proposed rule change to streamline the process for which positions would be deemed ‘sensitive.’
It’s important to note that officials were hesitant to look at proposed changes as a reason to downgrade or decrease the number of security clearances, and were quick to say that any audits could just as easily reclassify positions to a higher clearance level (although that’s unlikely).
What does all of this mean for clearance holders? If you’re a federal employee who is ‘holding onto’ a security clearance but is in-between cleared projects, expect a change in policy which will make that more difficult. For defense contractors, in particular, companies may be forced to streamline work and keep those with clearances working more exclusively in the classified environment. Top Secret/SCI security clearance holders are most likely to be impacted. Those being the most costly clearances to obtain and maintain, agencies looking to crack down on leaks and save dollars will likely look to reduce the number of individuals with access to the ‘crown jewels.’
Even with desk audits in the works, don’t expect a rapid decrease in the number of security clearances. All clearances remain ‘current’ for a period of two years even after a person has left their position. So if you lose your current gig, you still have two years to log onto ClearanceJobs.com to find your next opportunity.