As I was sifting through research on another project, I came across a report dated December 2, 1974, titled Personnel Security Investigations: Inconsistent Standards and Procedures authored by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and sent to the Civil Service Commission. A GAO report right in the middle of the Watergate Scandal and the Vietnam War. I thought this could be some good reading.

Security Clearance Investigative Authorities

The first item that caught my attention was the Civil Service Commission and designated agencies including Defense Investigative Services (DIS), the FBI, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of State were the authorities granted the power to conduct security clearance investigations. Thus, with so many moving parts, the first findings in the paragraph of the report should come as no surprise:

The investigative agencies are not applying standards and procedures consistently to all applicants for and employees in the Federal Government as required by the investigative laws and Executive orders. The employing agencies differ extensively in their determinations of who will be investigated (classification), how they will be investigated (scope) and the use made of investigation results.

The report then went on and leveled blame on the Civil Service Commission for not adequately providing specific and consistent guidance to the agencies on how investigations should be handled. With the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) now handling almost all background investigations, we have seemed to learned from this report, albeit with some bumps along the way.

A chart in the report showed the number of field testimonies per investigation by agency, along with the average cost of the investigation. The FBI average testimonies per case was a whopping 57, with an average case cost estimated at $934.00 (yes, that is correct). On the other end of the chart, the Defense Investigative Services was spending on average $268.00 per investigation and only sourced testimonies of 20 people per case. To be clear, testimonies included more than in person interviews, as that term also includes written records reviews as well.

lack of consistency in adjudication

The report recommended DIS consolidate much of their investigative resources and turn over a great deal of their work to the Civil Service Commission. It also noted lack of consistency in adjudication between new applicants and current employees. The findings also disclosed many of those with derogatory information in their files who were already employed were retained. Reasons given by the agencies ranged from the shortages in the labor market, nonsensitive position hires, and inconclusive evidence on the derogatory information. The GAO spent two pages talking about inconsistent treatment of applicants with similar case facts, varying from agency to agency. This is the most interesting reading of the entire report:

  • Agency A appointed an applicant to a GS-3 guard position before a full field investigation was completed that revealed the subject had been a heroin addict. The investigative report included testimony from two witnesses who knew the subject and results of a records search of the drug treatment center where the subject had been released from treatment a year before his employment with Agency A. Agency A terminated the subject’s temporary appointment a month after it appointed him, and 3 weeks after receiving the investigative report.
  • Agency B appointed an applicant to a GS-4 clerk-steno position three months before receiving a full field investigation report that revealed the subject was taking the drug mescaline. One witness related personal knowledge of drug use and another stated that the subject had associated with a drug user. Agency B retained the subject because there was only one substantial allegation and because the position of clerk-steno was difficult to fill.

Does all of this have a logical socio-political explanation, especially the DIS apparent low effort on comprehensive security investigations immediately after Vietnam, in which recruiting was a significant challenge and retention even more so? That question discussion alone would probably be a long chapter of a book for a college Political Science class. For your own look at this very intriguing document, check out the GAO report.


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Joe Jabara, JD, is the Director, of the Hub, For Cyber Education and Awareness, Wichita State University. He also serves as an adjunct faculty at two other universities teaching Intelligence and Cyber Law. Prior to his current job, he served 30 years in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Kansas Air National Guard. His last ten years were spent in command/leadership positions, the bulk of which were at the 184th Intelligence Wing as Vice Commander.