A long-awaited interagency report on the security clearance process led by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was released this week. The recommendations mirror those recently made at a House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.
THE PROBLEM WITH SELF-REPORTING
The report noted reporting problems, including inability to access criminal records as well as failure to report potential issues.Current procedures require individuals to self-report issues, but little guidance is given to cleared professionals on what information should be reported. Federal hiring managers and contract supervisors are also given little to no guidance on how they should report potential issues.
Specific actions on records-keeping and reporting include establishing a reporting requirements policy. This policy will impact cleared workers and hiring managers, as the new requirements may include penalties for those who fail to follow the proper procedures.
Mental health and security clearances were also highlighted as an issue of concern, with the need to possibly update the SF-86 to better determine when mental health issues impair an individual’s ‘judgment, reliability and trustworthiness.’
CONTINUOUS MONITORING AND EVALUATION
The report also noted the need to revamp the periodic reinvestigation process. The report noted the success of the Department of Defense’s recent Automated Continuous Evaluation System (ACES) pilot. 3,370 Army service members, civilian employees and contractors were included in the pilot, and 21.7 percent were found to have unreported derogatory information. Three percent had serious issues that resulted in suspension or revocation of their security clearance.
By October 2014 the pilot will be expanded to an additional 100,000 cleared professionals. By September 2014 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will develop capability to implement Continuous Evaluation (CE) for the most sensitive TS/SCI positions, with a full roll-out expected by 2016.
TOO MANY CLEARANCE HOLDERS, TOO FEW PERIOD REINVESTIGATIONS
The report pointed to the massive growth in clearance holders post-9/11, and indicated that desk audits of cleared personnel are a next-step. While many have cautioned against pointing to the number of cleared personnel as the issue, OMB’s report was pointed in saying that 5.1 million clearance holders is too many.
The report also noted the backlog in periodic reinvestigations. Twenty-two percent of the TS/SCI population has outdated investigations. Resources are blamed for the backlog, and the report offered no clear solution for the resources problem. It did say that it will look to CE as a means of identifying at-risk populations.
WHAT’S MISSING – INSOURCING AND RESOURCING
Two topics largely missing from the report – the designation of responsibilities in the security clearance process, and the answer to the question of how continuous evaluation will be funded in an era of sequestration. Congressional security clearance reform efforts have largely blamed the current investigations process, with harsh criticism for contract security clearance investigators. The OPM report makes no recommendation to insource positions.
Perhaps most pointedly, it also makes no clear explanation for how to fund ACES or other CE programs. CE is seen as a mechanism to help the underfunded periodic reinvestigation program. But updated IT systems and new monitoring programs will cost money, and it remains to be seen how ACES will be funded. The costs for the Department of Defense alone are estimated to be $53 million. Other agencies are directed to prioritize automation requirements, but in a tight budget environment something will have to give in order to make CE a reality.