A security clearance reform hearing scheduled for Capitol Hill today plans to draw attention to two topics – the need for reciprocity and the potential costs of transitioning Department of Defense background investigations away from the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB).
In prepared remarks A.R. “Trey” Hodgkins, Senior Vice President of the IT Alliance for the Public Sector, urges the adoption of “The Four Ones”:
- One application
- One investigation
- One adjudication
- One clearance
Hodgkins highlights this common pain point in industry – the requirement to submit multiple applications, submit to multiple investigations, and the ongoing need to renew security clearances. If the plan sounds familiar – it should. It was first introduced in 2004 as a part of the government’s efforts to address slow security clearance processing times and redundant processes (which probably also sounds familiar).
“Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to collect them all,” said Beth McGrath, managing director, federal strategy and operations at Deloitte Consulting LLP, referring to the various badges contractors have to maintain if they do work in more than one agency or office. McGrath made the remarks when the issue of reciprocity came up at the recent Intelligence and National Security Alliance Summit.
The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act was supposed to eliminate this redundancy, requiring security clearance reciprocity and creating standards for timeliness in security clearance background investigations. That hasn’t happened, and a successful security clearance determination in one agency often does not immediately transfer to access within another government agency. This extends to adjudications, where suitability standards differ, meaning you may successfully obtain a security clearance within one agency, only to be denied by another.
“As one contract with an agency or department concludes, the need to move personnel to other contracts exists industry-wide,” writes Hodgkins. “There is no salient argument for different adjudication standards across various government agencies and departments. The condition, however, is not limited to just the private sector. Federated U.S. government entities, such as DOJ and DHS, with multiple component agencies frequently do not acknowledge clearances issued within the same department. The concept of “one adjudication” builds upon the uniformity and standardization discussed above and leads directly into the following advantage – one clearance.”
The topic of suitability is one that often creates questions for applicants. Suitability determinations are not the same across government agencies, and that means the adjudicative standards on things from drug use to criminal conduct may be different. In some instances, that’s due to a differing level of security or sensitivity, but in others, it’s simply a matter of agency preference. Hodgkins acknowledges adjudication is low on the list of issues with the security clearance process – but still one that should be address if the government looks to implement a ‘One Clearance’ standard.
One Clearance, Two Agencies
The Senate Oversight and Government Reform Committee will no doubt be asking questions about the National Defense Authorization Act’s proposal to shift DoD clearances in house, and all but shuttering the work of the NBIB, who conducts 95 percent of all background investigations, the vast majority of which are for the DoD.
Hodgkins makes it clear that his ‘One Clearance’ vision extends to one agency managing the security clearance process – as troubled as that process is right now. He makes good use of history to explain how today’s backlog is nothing new – the backlog numbers were almost as high when DoD was running its own investigations 20 years ago.