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White House: Fewer feds should have clearances

Mar. 18, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
The 2013 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard prompted a review of security clearance policies.
The 2013 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard prompted a review of security clearance policies. (Rob Curtis/Staff)

Too many federal employees and contractors have security clearances and the clearance process is fraught with critical vulnerabilities, according to a report released by the administration March 18.

The report, which President Obama ordered last fall in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting, recommends that by April 2014 agencies must review all security clearance holders and determine if they should still be eligible.

The report also includes a series of recommendations to reform the security clearance process, including:

■ Ensuring background investigators can access state and local criminal records more easily and broaden access to relevant data including social media.

■ Developing a governmentwide IT strategy to shift to a process of continuous evaluation instead of periodic evaluation.

■ Creating clear guidelines on how when and how to suspend security credentials.

Katherine Archuleta, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, said in a press release March 18 the report addresses a number of concerns about who can access sensitive data and facilities and she will work with agencies to implement the recommendations.

“The recommendations will strengthen the personnel vetting programs, building on existing reform efforts, and further ensure that we meet the highest standards of quality and integrity,” Archuleta said.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence will be spearheading the effort to develop a continuous evaluation program and will leverage government, public and commercial databases to reduce gaps in periodic reviews and identify issues faster, according to National Counterintelligence Executive Frank Montoya.

“This will enable federal agencies to make timely and informed eligibility decisions as adjudicatively relevant information comes to light,” Montoya said.

By September, 2014 the ODNI will develop an initial continuous evaluation ability for the most sensitive top secret clearance holders and will expand the system to include 1 million clearance holders by 2017.

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The report recommends agencies accelerate earlier recommendations on improving access to different government databases and develop a risk-based approach to identifying which clearances to review.

The report also recommends creating clear governmentwide requirements for when an employee should report information that could affect their continued eligibility for a clearance.

The recommendations are ‘common sense approaches’ that will help close gaps in the security clearance process, Professional Services Council President Stan Soloway said in a statement.

“These reviews have appropriately focused on what information is to be reviewed and how to make greater use of a risk- and analytics-based approach,” Soloway.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, agreed that agencies must implement continuous evaluation and collect more data — such as social media information — in the course of background checks.

Issa said Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis could have been stopped and his security clearance revoked if all the information about him was properly obtained and reported.

“It is imperative that we fix these glaring problems before another tragedy occurs,” Issa said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the committee, said the recommendations are an important step but the administration needs insource more of the clearance process.

“I believe that judging the truthfulness of applicants in subject interviews and for top secret clearances is an inherently governmental function with grave national security implications, and it must be federalized,” he said.

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