After the events last year – Edward Snowden’s leaks and Aaron Alexis’ fatal shooting of 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, lawmakers are pushing through a host of reforms for the security clearance process.
One of the latest is the Enhanced Security Clearance Act of 2014, which seeks to establish random, automated record checks of cleared individuals through publicly available online information including social media data such as pictures, videos, posts and comments. Other online data in these searches would include blogs, microblogs, forums, news Web sites, and “23 picture and video-sharing websites.”
“This bill will help stop the Snowdens, Mannings, Hasans, and Alexis’s of the world from holding any federal job that could be abused at the expense of our national defense,” said the bill’s author, U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA). “In particular, the bill will update government background checks to include an applicants’ publicly available electronic data including social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter.”
Social media screening – already a powerful employment tool
The COO of Social Intelligence, which provides products to assist with government security clearance investigations, told ZDnet that it periodically finds alarming behavior of job seekers through social media screening.
“In our work for large employers we have found countless examples of active job seekers, with publicly available online information related to illegal activity, demonstrations of racism and intolerance, as well as other types of information which should be taken into consideration as employer’s screen potential employees,” said Geoffrey Andrews, COO of Social Intelligence.
President Obama has already signed two bills seeking to reform the security clearance process, including the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. This creates a task force that helps facilitate greater information sharing between background checkers and state and local authorities. In February Obama signed an act that gave the Office of Personnel Management more oversight authority over its own investigations, including the ability to investigate background checks that may have been compromised. Earlier this year a contractor from USIS, the largest outside investigation company for federal security clearances, was accused of falsifying 48 background investigations.
Another proposed bill, the Security Clearance Accountability and Reform (SCARE) Act, seeks to prohibit federal employees found guilty of compromising a background investigation from conducting future investigations, or have these employees fired.
how many is too many?
Yet some lawmakers believe the problem may lie in the amount of people with security clearances. The Clearance and Over-Classification Reform and Reduction (CORRECT) Act seeks to reduce the number of people with clearances by 10 percent within five years.
“One of the solutions has to be (to reduce) the need for so many clearances in the first place,” said Neil Gordon from the Project on Government Oversight, in Government Executive. He noted that while OPM has cut its longstanding backlog of investigations, “quicker doesn’t necessarily mean better.”