Every year, a number of Federal employees and contractors have their security clearance revoked. As part of a campaign to examine “insider” threats in the Department of Defense and in Homeland Security, the Government Accounting Office audited the records on revocations for those two departments. On Sept. 8, the GAO released the findings and it was not pretty.

Neither Cabinet department was able to tell the GAO, with any certainty, how many security clearances had been revoked. In fact, the employment status of those employees with revoked clearances was difficult or impossible to determine. Even more frustrating was the GAO finding that, at DoD, five components had more cleared employees than actual employees in their areas.

Communication within agencies and departments is less than ideal. Security personnel do not talk to HR personnel. And, when they do talk, someone is not doing the paperwork that is supposed to be completed. The Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS) is supposed to generate a wide variety of reports, including reports on who has or does not have a security clearance. But someone has to do the data entry first.

Incomplete Records-Keeping Poses Serious Security Risk

A recent article in Stars and Stripes reported that in a five year period, 2009-13, the DoD revoked the security clearance of 16,000 military and civilian employees and 2,500 contractors. However, of those 16,000, the JPAS data showed that just 3,000 had received a “statement of reasons” which is required to be given the employee as part of the revocation process. Blank or incomplete fields in a JPAS record were common.

Looking at FY 2013 for Homeland Security, the Stars and Stripes reported that 113 people had their clearance revoked out of a total of about 125,000 DHS employees with clearances. The GAO was told that many employees choose to resign before their clearance is revoked. The GAO was unable to determine if their records were annotated with the proposed revocation.

GAO Says Revised Regulations Needed

The GAO noted uneven implementation of the revocation process throughout the two departments. In its recommendations, it suggested that both the Army and the Navy needed to revise their regulations on the topic. The Coast Guard was asked to revise its instructions to specify that personnel may be represented by an attorney or other representatives at their own expense.

Other recommendations included asking the Secretaries to direct their personnel management agencies to clarify communications between between human capital and personnel security officials, at which point communication should take place, and which information. The audit renews previous suggestions that the Defense Department Personnel Security Appeals Boards be consolidated, to ensure that standards and practices are consistent across the entire DoD.

While there are many reasons that a security clearance can be revoked, Stars and Stripes reports that for the DoD over the surveyed five years, criminal conduct, drug involvement and personal conduct were the top reasons. Among contractors, the top reasons for revocations were for financial reasons, personal conduct or criminal conduct.

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Charles Simmins brings thirty years of accounting and management experience to his coverage of the news. An upstate New Yorker, he is a freelance journalist, former volunteer firefighter and EMT, and is owned by a wife and four cats.