On July 28, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) released a report “Security Clearances: Tax Debts Owed by DOD Employees and Contractors” which detailed how approximately 83,000 Department of Defense (DOD) employees or contractors who enjoyed the trust of the United States government, with eligibility for; having held; or currently holding secret, top secret and sensitive compartmented information (SCI) clearance were responsible for $730 million of unpaid federal tax debt.

Of those 83,000, according to the IRS, 34,000 had an active payment plan in place. The GAO report did not include those individuals who are granted security clearances by non-DOD entities, such as those within the intelligence community. In an October 2013 GAO report “Security Clearances: Additional Mechanisms May Aid Federal Tax-Debt Detection” addressed this population. The report found that approximately 8,400 who were adjudicated as eligible for a security clearance from April 2006 to December 2011 owed approximately $85 million in unpaid taxes as of June 2012.

Self-Reporting Financial Issues

Given there are approximately 5.1 million individuals who currently hold security clearances (GAO October 2013), it stands to reason that through the normal course of life’s events fiscal emergencies will befall a percentage of individuals who fall within the pool who have been adjudicated as being clearance eligible. Those who have experienced the trauma of a long term family illness realize the reality of their fiscal house being upturned, and their financial situation becomes critically fragile. Individuals who have active security clearances are expected to self-report when they are in fiscal crisis. The reality is, many don’t.

“The GAO findings should raise the alarms within the OPM, DoD, and intel agencies. As government scrambles to find the next insider threat, history tells us that security-cleared individuals in financial trouble are the most vulnerable to coercion,” said Evan Lesser, founder and managing director of ClearanceJobs.com.

This GAO report, and its predecessor, are just the beginning of many similar surveys which government employees with security clearances will be subjected. It is the intent of GAO to establish by 2017 an automated federal tax compliance check. The necessity of such a report is based on solid counterintelligence doctrine. An individual who is in financial crisis is perceived to be more vulnerable to breaking trust than an individual not in crisis. This vulnerability, coupled with a plethora of active hostile foreign intelligence organizations targeting the United States DOD and intelligence communities, one immediately recognizes the value of being able to identify individuals at risk and providing to them the resources to ameliorate those risks. The viability of such a system arriving before 2017, according to the GAO, the capability remains in the “planning stages.”

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com