According to a new GAO report, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has not provided federal agencies with clearly defined policy guidance for determining whether positions require security clearances.
Without this guidance, many agencies use an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) position designation tool that provides inconsistent designations. In April 2012 OPM audited positions within a Department of Defense agency to determine security clearance classification levels and came to a different conclusion than the agency for 66% of the positions. That’s a big difference.
Part of the problem is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and OPM didn’t collaborate on creation of the OPM designation tool.
“Without guidance from the DNI, and without collaboration between DNI and OPM in future revisions to the tool, executive branch agencies will continue to risk making security clearance determinations that are inconsistent or at improper levels,” GAO wrote.
GAO also found in a review of clearances in Defense and Homeland Security departments that although they were aware of the need to keep clearances to a minimum, agency officials did not always conduct necessary reviews to validate the security clearance requirements of existing positions.
Again the issue is DNI has not established guidelines on reviewing existing positions, so agencies have inconsistent practices. Agencies are hiring and budgeting for both initial and periodic investigations using job descriptions with security clearance requirements that may no longer be accurate.
Over-classifying positions does have a budgetary impact. The 2012 cost of a Secret clearance is $260 vs. $4,005 for a Top Secret clearance. Over 4.8 million federal and contractor employees held or were eligible for a security clearance in 2011. OPM’s background investigation costs rose from $602 million in fiscal 2005 to nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal 2011.