Employees and contractors interested in the range of security clearance standards and practices employed throughout the U.S. Government
DOD Personnel Clearances and GAO
May 19, 2009 at 7:47 pm #72378
DOD PERSONNEL CLEARANCES
Comprehensive Timeliness Reporting, Complete Clearance Documentation, and Quality Measures Are Needed to Further Improve the Clearance Process
DOD and OPM met statutory timeliness requirements for personnel security clearances in fiscal year 2008, but the executive branch’s 2009 required report to Congress did not reflect the full range of time to make all initial clearance decisions. Currently, 80 percent of initial clearance decisions are to be made within 120 days, on average, and by December 2009, a plan is to be implemented in which, to the extent practical, 90 percent of initial clearance decisions are made within 60 days, on average. Under both requirements, the executive branch can exclude the slowest percent, and then report on an average of the remaining clearances. The most recent report stated that the average time to complete the fastest 90 percent of initial clearances for military and DOD civilians in fiscal year 2008 was 124 days, on average. However, without taking averages or excluding the slowest clearances, GAO analyzed 100 percent of initial clearances granted in 2008 and found that 39 percent still took more than 120 days. The absence of comprehensive reporting limits full visibility over the timeliness of initial clearance decisions.
With respect to initial top secret clearances adjudicated in July 2008, documentation was incomplete for most OPM investigative reports and some DOD adjudicative files. GAO independently estimated that 87 percent of about 3,500 investigative reports that adjudicators used to make clearance decisions were missing required documentation, and the documentation most often missing was employment verification. Although DOD leadership asserted that adjudicators follow a risk-managed approach, DOD has not issued formal guidance clarifying if and under what circumstances adjudicators can adjudicate incomplete investigative reports. For DOD adjudicative files, GAO estimated that 22 percent were missing required documentation of the rationale for granting clearances to applicants with security concerns, and the documentation most often missing was related to foreign influence. Neither OPM nor DOD measures the completeness of its investigative reports or adjudicative files. As a result, both are limited in their ability to explain the extent or the reasons why some documents are incomplete. Incomplete documentation may lead to increases in both the time needed to complete the clearance process and in overall process costs and may reduce the assurance that appropriate safeguards are in place to prevent DOD from granting clearances to untrustworthy individuals.
The executive branch’s annual reports to Congress on the personnel security clearance process have provided decision makers with limited data on quality. The 2009 report did not provide any data on quality but, unlike previous reports, identified quality metrics that the executive branch proposes to collect. GAO has stated that timeliness alone does not provide a complete picture of the clearance process and emphasized that attention to quality could increase reciprocity—accepting another federal entity’s clearances. The executive branch, though not required to include information on quality in its annual reports, has latitude to report appropriate information and has missed opportunities to make the clearance process transparent to Congress
June 6, 2009 at 8:21 pm #72380
A related “news” story…
The Pentagon may have issued top-secret clearances last year to as many as one-in-four applicants who had “significant derogatory information” in their backgrounds, including a record of foreign influence or criminal conduct, a little- noticed government audit says.
Flaws in the system for granting clearances to Defense Department staff and contractors pose a risk to national security, and the right tools to measure how well the process works are essential, said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, California Democrat and chairman of a House intelligence subcommittee that oversees personnel and management issues.
“At present, we’re basically operating on faith. This shouldn’t be a faith-based process,” Ms. Eshoo told The Washington Times.
Ms. Eshoo was responding to an audit published last month by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warning one in four top-secret clearances issued by the Pentagon last year had no record of why officials had approved the applicant despite “significant derogatory information” that raised security concerns – most frequently about foreign influence or criminal conduct.
The audit also found that nearly nine in 10 new top-secret clearances last year were granted even though background investigation files on the applicant “were missing at least one type of documentation,” most often employment verification.
The Pentagon granted more than 450,000 initial security clearances, and another 180,000 renewals, to military personnel, civilian employees and private contractors last year, based on the results of background investigations conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Auditors reached their conclusions by examining a random sample of 3,500 files on top-secret clearances granted in July last year.
GAO auditors said their report concentrated on top-secret clearances because people with them “have access to information that, if improperly disclosed, could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security.”
The risks inherent in granting security clearances to the wrong people are illustrated by the case of Noureddine Malki, a naturalized U.S. citizen who worked as a contract translator for the U.S. military in Iraq. Last year, Malki was sentenced to 10 years in prison and stripped of his citizenship after pleading guilty of lying about his background, biography and even his name in his applications for citizenship and later a top-secret security clearance.
Prosecutors said Malki had taken home classified documents about the insurgency in Iraq, and had been in “unauthorized phone and e-mail contact … with Sunni sheiks in the Sunni Triangle – individuals from whom the defendant admitted taking bribes,” according to a Feb. 7, 2007, pretrial memorandum.
Retired Gen. James Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, accepted the GAO report and agreed to implement a series of reforms it recommended.
The audit, he said, “provide* an adequate assessment of the department’s personnel security program.”
Rebecca Allen, deputy director of security for the Pentagon, told The Times that the fact that the rationale for granting a clearance was not recorded did not mean a poor decision had been made. “This appears to be more an issue of documentation,” she said.
“We’re confident in our risk-management-based approach,” she said, adding that adjudicators who decide whether to grant a clearance used “a whole-person concept. They consider favorable and unfavorable information from the past and the present and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.”
She said the department had agreed to implement a series of reforms recommended by the audit, including issuing new guidance to investigators about the importance of “more consistently and properly documenting their decisions.”
Kathy Dillaman, the OPM associate director in charge of background investigations, said the auditors adopted a “tick-the-box” approach in saying that 90 percent of files were missing documentation.
“Our investigators are trained to find the best sources of information [about applicants] and not just tick the box,” she said. For example, she said, some companies would confirm only the dates of employment, in which case investigators would seek other ways to obtain details about a person’s work record.
“It’s not as black and white” as the audit made it out to be, she said. “There’s a fair amount of discretion that has to be applied” by OPM’s 6,300 investigators – three-quarters of whom are contractors. “You have to put some common sense in there,” she said.
“In every case, a good decision can be made” based on the background investigations OPM passed to the Pentagon, she said, adding that every file was reviewed by experienced staff investigators before it was submitted as part of the agency’s quality assurance program.
Ms. Eshoo, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, are pushing a bill that would mandate detailed annual reports to Congress on the clearance process.
“We can’t afford to go on without a very, very strong handle on who is being allowed in and who should be kept out” of the nation’s classified information systems, Ms. Eshoo said.
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