Congress is unconvinced proposed clearance reforms are adequate.
At last week’s hearing on clearance reform held by the House Committee on Oversight, congressmen pressed the Obama administration on specifics of their proposed rehaul of the background check system.
Last month, the Obama administration announced its restructuring plan for federal background investigations, both for security clearances and routine security checks. The administration’s proposal creates the “National Background Investigations Bureau” (NBIB), which acts under the direction of OPM. The NBIB will absorb the Federal Investigative Services, the entity currently used within OPM for conducting background investigations.
Is the new structure too complicated?
Under Obama’s proposed reforms, U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and DoD will share responsibility for the background check process. DoD is tasked with securing IT systems related to background investigation process, while OPM will remain the leader on investigative processes.
Congressmen sparred over whether President Obama’s this structure is too complicated, and if charging DoD with such work won’t strip money away from its other critical defense activities.
“If the Department of Defense is going to clearly have the greatest level of responsibility to protect these documents then they, by golly, better have the authority to make it good and we ought not to be weakening and diminishing our land forces to pay for some data breach,” remarked Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK).
Where is oversight of social network activity?
Congressmen demanded specifics on how background investigations would collect and incorporate public online activity, such as social media sharing.
“As we’re doing a background investigation, how could you not go look at their Facebook page, or their Twitter posts, or their Instagram, or Snapchat, or any of the other ones?” Pressed Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). “…Go hire a bunch of teenagers and they’d do it better than we’re doing it. … ISIS has figured it out — they know how to do it. But we don’t seem to do it.”
Interestingly, in the omnibus appropriations bill passed by in December of 2015, Congress prescribed new social media dictates for the background investigation process.
criminal records sharing among federal, state and local entities — where is it?
Congressmen were likewise concerned over the federal government’s lack of access and consideration of state and local criminal records–something highlighted when the system failed to identify criminal acts in the background of the 2013 cleared Navy Yard shooter.
“The Navy Yard shooter had multiple previous arrests and yet was still somehow able to obtain clearance,” pressed Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA). “…When is that relationship [with other law enforcement] going to be resolved so that information can be readily made available so that we don’t have people like the Navy Yard shooter gain access?”
“There are real challenges in getting complete and comprehensive records from local law enforcment. That process has seen improvment,” said Cobert. Cobert cited the recently-passed federal laws breaking down non-disclosure agreements with local entities as inroads to obatining those records.
WATCH members spar about security clearance reform: