The  Fiscal Year 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) requires the president to submit a report on security clearance determinations to Congress. The intent of the requirement is for the United States government to better manage the security clearance process to justify clearances, include hiring more qualified job candidates, and reducing the time it takes to complete a security clearance investigation on qualified individuals. For example, suitability requirements for job positions should be clearly defined and justified and hiring practices should include background checks that would identify and hire those who would not be disqualified from suitability prior to being submitted for a security clearance investigation.

The latest review and report is submitted as Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report on Security Clearance Determinations and it provides the current state of U.S. government security clearances. The report demonstrates the amount of cleared employees in the government and defense contractor populations and whether or not the cleared employees have access to classified information. It provides clearance trends from 2016 to 2017 and explains any increase or decrease in the amount of security clearance holders.

Security Clearance Holder Trends

The report shows that there is a 1.2 % decrease in the number of security clearance holders. Much of this decrease can be attributed to better government oversight of security clearance justification. The reform is based on increased efforts to better review and validate cleared employee security clearance needs and requirements to access classified information.

Security Clearance Investigation Trends

The number of security clearance investigation cases has decreased 37%. This decrease in workload is attributed to huge existing caseloads, competing with budget issues, and increased demand on competing resources. Outside agencies also contributed to the reduction – such as when the Office of Personnel Management suffered investigation delays.

Additionally, the number of security clearance holders that required periodic re-investigations strained available security clearance investigation resources. To add to the competing resource problem, a major security clearance investigation vendor was no longer available to perform services. This left fewer resources available, and therefore unable to meet the demand for background investigations, causing clearance timelines to increase.

Security clearance holders by The Numbers

The report explained the number of persons with security clearances and whether or not they have access to classified information. “In Access” can be best explained by a requirement to perform on classified projects and work with classified information on a regular basis. “Not in Access” are those who have security clearances without regular access to classified information, such as Key Management Personnel and auditors.

Cleared and In Access: Approaching  October 1, 2017, nearly 3 Million individuals had security clearances and were in access. This is approximately 8,000 fewer individuals than in October 2016.

Cleared but not In Access: As of October 1, 2017, nearly 1.5 Million eligible individuals were not in access. This represents approximately 42,000 less than in October 2016.

Solutions and a Way Ahead

It seems the issue is not the trend of reduced number of clearances. If good stewardship is practiced, then that is a good thing. However, the reduction in clearances is seemingly caused by a breakdown in process and resources. The resulting backlog contributes to the reduction. The most obvious and currently ongoing solution is the need for more investigation assets. Under the current workload, investigations could continue to backlog and strain the number of necessary security clearance investigations. To resolve the problem, more contracts should be acquired to increase the amount of background investigators and reduce the size of the backlog.

In addition to increased resources, government agencies should balance that with effective means of review and re-designate security clearance positions according with Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations Part 1400, Designation of National Security Positions in the Competitive Service, and Related Matters. The requirements to validate security clearance eligibility would significantly impact the total number of U.S. government cleared personnel.

Conclusion

In summary, the number of individuals eligible for a security clearance actually decreased as a result of attempting to align with requirements. It appears that the government is directing resources toward an appropriate number of cleared personnel based on agency mission. The next report may show an increase or decrease that demonstrates a correction to a more accurate picture of the number of cleared employees.

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Jeffrey W. Bennett is a security consultant with SFPC, SAPPC, ISOC, ISP certifications. He maintains a security blog and newsletter and is the author of many security books including DoD Security Clearance and Contracts Guidebook-What Cleared Contractors Need to Know About Their Need to Know, The Insider’s Guide to Security Clearances, and books on security certification. Visit his website www.redbikepublishing.com for more information.