“Having a top-secret clearance may no longer be the insignia of an intel worker, according to the intelligence community’s national counterintelligence chief.
“The IC’s [Intelligence Community] culture used to look at having a top-secret clearance as a “pass-fail” test to get in, [William] Evanina said, but that doesn’t mean employees can’t do their jobs from home — as long as it’s done securely.”
“We are just as successful, with some exceptions, with people working at home than we were before. And I think we have to be flexible and look at our private-sector model and maybe extrapolate that into our intelligence community,” National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina said during a May 13 INSA virtual event.
Evanina said he could see not requiring clearances for some positions in the next few years due to teleworking abilities. “Just because you work in the IC, and just because you have a top-secret clearance, does that mean that everything you do is classified?”
“Right now, our communications from home to work is not safe, whether it’s in the private sector, especially not in the government,” he said. “We have to find effective security solutions to get to where we want to be.”
The government rolled out its much-criticized Trusted Workforce 2.0 framework in 2019, aiming to reduce the amount of time needed to clear new employees and re-investigate those moving across agencies.
The IC merged two hiring processes, for security clearances and employee suitability, into one earlier this year. The move was meant to clarify the role of human resource officers in ensuring candidates were right for job demands.
Evanina said the security clearance backlog has dropped to 180,000, with upwards of 50% more new applications coming in compared to 2019. That target beats the one set by the President’s Management Agenda at a 200,000 caseload of active investigations, and it is a significant dip from the reported 231,000 cases in January.”
“The RAND Corporation, which recently studied agencies’ continuous evaluation programs, estimated government could save as much as $30 billion over the next 25 years by phasing out the periodic reinvestigation process and moving more federal employees and contractors with security clearances into CE.
These costs would occur once as the Defense Department completes an initial investigation of a federal employee or contractor. But if enrolled in a continuous evaluation program, the costs of reinvestigating a clearance holder could be minimal, as much as $5 a month according to private sector estimates, RAND said.
Assuming a total population of 5.1 million secret and top secret clearance holders, RAND estimated agencies would spend about $2.16 billion over the next 25 years. Considering these costs of a CE program, RAND estimated agencies could save around $27.8 billion over the same time period.
“By augmenting the standard security clearance, investigation and adjudication process … with continuous evaluation, the organization can cut down on the cost of doing so many of those investigations and adjudications and have a near, real-time monitoring of the workforce,” David Luckey, a senior international and defense researcher with the RAND Corporation, said in an interview. “By cutting down on those periodic reviews of the population, we found that there [are] potential savings.”
RAND’s estimates, of course, are merely rough projections.
DoD, which sponsored RAND’s study on continuous evaluation, is already deploying this tactic as it prepares to assume responsibility for the governmentwide security clearance and vetting program from the Office of Personnel Management and National Background Investigations Bureau.
The Pentagon has been enrolling cleared individuals up for periodic reinvestigations into its continuous evaluation program, and defense officials have said that will continue.
It’s also unclear exactly how much agencies like DoD or the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have spent over the years to stand up continuous evaluation pilots and further capabilities and automation systems.
“These estimations assume some constants, such as reinvestigation costs, employees remaining at the same level of clearance and time between each reinvestigation,” the RAND report reads. “We used the liberal estimate of $5 per employee per month as a buffer for additional costs potentially incurred, but we did not account in our estimates for in-depth reviews of individuals who are identified by CE as needing additional attention. While these examples do not provide a true number of potential savings in leveraging CE as opposed to reinvestigations, they do suggest that the savings could be substantial.”
Continuous evaluation, as DoD and other administration officials have said in multiple arenas, will be a key part of the Pentagon’s plans to continue NBIB’s recent progress on the security clearance backlog.
CE, or continuous vetting, is also a signature feature of the Trump administration’s attempts to modernize the suitability, credentialing and security clearance process, which hasn’t gotten a serious update in several decades. Specific policies for this initiative, called Trusted Workforce 2.0, should begin to surface toward the end of the year.
Still, RAND sees room for DoD to clarify and improve public knowledge about continuous evaluation — what it is, what it isn’t and how it can help agencies protect their employees, resources and classified information.
No definitions of continuous evaluation exist in government statute, according to RAND, and agencies have differing definitions of “insider threat” as well.
Other opportunities exist for DoD and the intelligence community to improve existing continuous evaluation programs.
“Whatever potential or actual shortcomings exist in continuous evaluation, it is clearly a step forward in our opinion,” Luckey said. “With that being said, things aren’t perfect. Systems aren’t perfect. The world is still evolving, and the information systems and data held in those information systems continues to evolve.”
Most existing continuous evaluation programs tap into a variety of data streams to track changes in a person’s credit or status with law enforcement.
But few CE programs have a technical way to truly map personality or other behaviors, which could predispose a clearance holder to acts of violence, theft or destruction, RAND said.
Embedding a standard technical solution to track social media behavior, for example, could help agencies address potential insider threats.
“People are the most important aspect of any organization, and the vast majority of employees, 99.9% of employees, are well-intentioned, hardworking, thoughtful, caring people,” Luckey said. “The issue is that [for the] one of a million or one out of 1,000 employees who goes wrong, organizations must have an ability to monitor their workforce and, when necessary, have an ability to weed out those hopefully potential insiders, before they threaten the organization or its employees.”
Most CE programs don’t have an existing mechanism to anonymously collect reports or tips about cleared individuals, which could point agencies to more easily recognize disgruntled employees.”
“Government is losing talent, productivity and taxpayer dollars as agencies often take several months to complete their own investigations of individuals who have already been reviewed and cleared by another federal organization.”
“Ambiguous, layered and outdated policies and practices are preventing federal employees and contractors with security clearances from moving top talent in and around government.
The Intelligence and National Security Alliance [INSA] describes in a recent report the challenges with a concept known as “reciprocity.”
“Reciprocity” refers to the idea that if one agency places trust and grants a security clearance to a federal employee or contractor, most other agencies — generally — should too.
But members of industry have, on multiple occasions, said this isn’t standard practice at some departments, and contractors generally have little insight into where their employees are in an agency’s investigative and adjudication process, INSA said.
Industry leaders say 10% of their cleared contractor workforce within the intelligence community are idle at any given time, because their employees are waiting for an agency to grant, update or transfer a security clearance. INSA estimates these reciprocity delays could total as much as 1,000 lost contractor labor-years and $2 billion a year, assuming an average annual cost of $200,000 per top-secret cleared contractor to the government.
Reciprocity delays across government could amount to some 90,000 lost contractor labor-years, according to INSA’s estimates.
“Industry currently has many thousands of personnel who were cleared on one government contract but who must wait weeks or months before being allowed to work on a new contract,” INSA wrote. “One large firm alone reported that it currently had more than 700 employees waiting for clearance transfers, and that on average its employees wait 94 days for their clearances to be accepted by a new agency.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has tried to provide more clarity. ODNI’s Security Executive Agent issued a directive back in November 2018, which said agencies should “accept” existing security clearances and national security eligibility adjudications and determinations already granted by another executive branch agency.
But directives like this most recent one, INSA argued, give agencies too much room to interpret their own meanings, and in fact, they have.
“Individual agencies created internal policies and procedures based on their own interpretations of [Security Executive Agent] directives,” INSA’s report reads. “At larger agencies like the DoD, sub-departments including the Army, Navy and Air Force have further promulgated their own interpretations of both ODNI and DoD policy. This practice of agency-specific policy interpretation creates a web of inconsistent rules that complicate reciprocal recognition of clearances.”
In addition, the directive doesn’t mention how agencies should handle previous policies on security clearance reciprocity, which have been equally ambiguous on the topic, INSA said.
INSA described 14 recommendations to improve security clearance reciprocity. Many suggestions are detailed and describe highly specific policies and interpretations INSA believes need an update. But taken more broadly, INSA’s recommendations point to several challenges and opportunities to shorten the adjudication process and standardize both longstanding and emerging investigative practices.
“Right now we have a lot of work to do in establishing common standards,” Charlie Allen, a senior intelligence adviser and chair of INSA’s security policy reform council, said in an interview. “On reciprocity, we have significant inconsistency when it comes to policies and standards. We have a lack of transparency and information sharing, which bothers me significantly. The lack of information sharing really creates distrust when we don’t share information as we bring these people on.”
Allen previously served as the first undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security after a decades-long career at the CIA.
Federal adjudication facilities also need more resources to more quickly sign off on completed background investigations, INSA suggested.
Allen described the adjudication process in general as a “painful and slow process,” and the latest timeliness data from Performance.gov prove his point.
Initial secret and top secret cases on average took 30 and 42 days, respectively, to adjudicate in the second quarter of fiscal 2019, according to a June update on Performance.gov. Periodic re-investigations took 100 days to adjudicate, data which is likely skewed to reflect recent Defense Department policy to forego those reviews in favor of continuous vetting.
Though not new to the intelligence and defense communities, continuous vetting is still an emerging concept for other agencies, and INSA argued it could also open up more uncertainty for security clearance reciprocity.
Adjudications are supposed to be completed in an average of 20 days, according to methodology from the Performance Accountability Council.
The Defense Department’s Consolidated Adjudications Facility has, in part, recognized its challenges to keep up with the National Background Investigations Bureau. But as NBIB has cut the backlog of pending investigatory matters by nearly 40 percent within the last year or so, that pace creates more pressure for DoD’s CAF to adjudicate more cases.
Though INSA described several existing challenges and made more than a dozen recommendations to clear up existing policies and create new ones, the organization is optimistic government will eventually act.
The reform council hosts meetings with industry, congressional staffers and senior government leaders like Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, who discuss these challenges and coming security clearance policy plans. These discussions show all the appropriate parties are interested and engaged in improving the security clearance process, Allen said.
ODNI and the Office of Personnel Management are working on a top-to-bottom overhaul of the suitability, credentialing and security clearance processes as part of a “Trusted Workforce 2.0” initiative.
New standards for denying, suspending and revoking federal credentials were due last summer but new deadlines have been set, according to the recent Performance.gov update.
These initiatives, as well as the administration’s plans to transfer the entire security clearance, suitability and credentialing enterprise from OPM and NBIB to the Pentagon, has industry feeling optimistic about the prospects for true modernization.
“I believe it can be done,” Allen said. “The White House has to stay engaged. It can’t be something the White House throws over the fence.”
Some members of Congress have also recognized the need for modernization.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is the author of several provisions designed to ensure agencies are meeting reciprocity guidelines and more easily transfer cleared individuals in and around government.
These provisions are part of the 2020 defense authorization bill, which cleared the Senate late last month.”
“The cost of security clearances next year will hold steady at 2019 levels, as the Defense Department prepares to assume responsibility over the governmentwide security clearance portfolio at the start of the next fiscal year.
The plan to keep prices consistent is a change from previous years, as the costs of conducting a background investigation have bounced around in recent years due to organizational changes and past data breaches
Costs, for example, went up in 2017 and 2018 as the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) moved into initial and full operating capability at the Office of Personnel Management. OPM in July 2015 retroactively charged agencies more for security clearance processing to help offset costs of the massive data breach that impacted 21.5 million current and former federal employees, contractors and others. DoD alone paid more than $132 million more in 2015.
The Pentagon assumes the costs to run the DCSA will be slightly less in 2020 — $1.25 billion — than they were in 2019 under OPM and NBIB at $1.36 billion.
The Pentagon attributes the drop in security clearance revenue and operating costs to its ever-growing continuous evaluation/vetting program, which has already expanded over the past year to cover low risk periodic reinvestigations. A heavier reliance on continuous evaluation will cut back on the number of pending clearances in the inventory and will allow DCSA investigators to focus their time and attention on more complex cases, DoD said.
“While the 2020 budget submission assumes decreases in the overall budgetary requirements and workload due to CE/CV, DCSA will closely monitor the actual impacts,” DoD wrote in its budget request. “Conversely, agencies using CE/CV for non-issue cases in lieu of traditional reinvestigations may result in a higher percentage of more complex investigations in DCSA’s inventory, requiring contract modifications with vendors.”
The security clearance transfer and merge of NBIB with DSS will be made official with an executive order, which officials have said the President is supposed to sign “soon.” DSS is poised to take over the security clearance portfolio by Oct. 1, 2019 and has been making organizational changes to prepare for the move.
Interestingly enough, DoD assumes a smaller operating budget in 2020 than in 2019 but more personnel. The Pentagon projects 3,513 employees under DCSA’s personnel vetting directorate, about 300 more people than NBIB’s 3,216 federal workforce.
A phased transfer of security clearance work
The transfer of the governmentwide security clearance portfolio and merger of NBIB with the DSS will be made official with an executive order, which officials have said the President is supposed to sign “soon.” DSS is poised to take over the security clearance portfolio by Oct. 1, 2019.
According to DoD’s budget justification, the transfer of the security clearance program will occur in phases based on the ongoing development of the National Background Investigation Service (NBIS), the IT systems that the Defense Information Systems Agency had originally been charged to build for NBIB back in 2016.
The NBIS and the 40 people who manage it recently moved to the Defense Security Service in preparation for the security clearance transfer.
The new IT system will become operational in phases, with OPM continuing to secure, maintain and update the legacy systems necessary to the DCSA’s operations as new capabilities on NBIS become available. The first phase of NBIS will make Tier 1 investigation processing operational for a “select number of federal customers,” DoD said.
“During the transition phase, DCSA may utilize OPM’s existing processes and systems on a reimbursable basis and likewise OPM may utilize some of DCSA’s resources, also on a reimbursable basis, in order to complete the existing backlog inventory,” the Pentagon wrote. “As part of the transfer and transition from OPM to DoD, DCSA plans to increase its direct embedded staffing levels by up to 250 employees to replace support functions previously provided as part of OPM’s common services.”
Yet neither the DoD nor the OPM 2020 budget request includes an estimate for how much these reimbursable services may cost.
The costs of these reimbursable services may hold great consequence for OPM, which is expected to lose nearly $1 billion in revenue through the transfer of the security clearance business to the Pentagon in mere months time. The gradual loss of the security clearance business will also likely deliver a blow to other parts of OPM’s budget, namely the agency’s “common services.”
NBIB currently pays OPM to use the agency’s legal, IT and security services, for example, which funds other functions within the organization.
But based on the DCSA’s transition plan, OPM won’t lose its entire security clearance business at all once.
The security clearance backlog on Sept. 30, the day before the program’s transfer is expected to become operational, will be worth $546 million, according to OPM’s estimates in its joint budget request with the General Services Administration”
“DDS wants a security clearance system that accounts for subject information collection, background investigation with some automated processes, and adjudication, the team announced in a request for white papers Tuesday.
The team will use an “other transaction agreement,” or OTA, to acquire the prototype.”
“As the Pentagon assumes responsibility for the federal government’s security clearance functions, it has tasked its Defense Digital Service team with leading the acquisition of a modern and partially automated prototype system for clearances. ‘
The decades-old congressional authority [Other Transaction Agreement (OTA] allows federal agencies to craft prototype-development deals with nontraditional vendors at a much quicker pace, often less than 60 days. This specific contract will last nine months and be worth no more than $5 million.
“This prototype will require integration with a wide variety of U.S. Government and commercial databases to verify the Subject’s identity and background information,” the solicitation says. “Development of the prototype will be rapid and agile in nature, fielding new functionality to users for feedback every two weeks.”
The software prototype must be hosted in commercial cloud approved for DOD Impact Level 4, which accounts for the most sensitive unclassified information. The final product must be “capable of collecting Subject’s information for a specified population, executing a background investigation of a specified type (including automated record checks, deconfliction/entity resolution, and manual investigation notes entry), and recording an adjudication decision.”
Additionally, DDS wants the software to meet a few specific needs:
Place the subject is at the center of the process
Enhance transparency of clearances, adding to the subject’s visibility into the process
Improve “user experience, workflow and information management, and productivity for additional non-Subject user communities”
Reduce the timeline of investigation and adjudication
Facilitate enrollment in continuous evaluation
Congress calls for such advancements in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act: “Current practices are mired in outdated methods and non-digital, non-automated technology. Expensive human investigative resources are consumed with fact checking and data collection functions (ripe candidates for automation) as opposed to investigating substantive issues about the actions and circumstances of prospective and current employees. A better model has been clear to policymakers for at least a decade: a ‘continuous evaluation’ concept based on automated access to a wide array of digital sources and records.”
Interested companies have until March 19 to submit questions and until March 26 to submit completed white papers.
This OTA comes as the Pentagon consolidates the security clearance and background check functions from across government into the Defense Security Service. As the solicitation explains, the current process, led by the Office of Personnel Management, “is spread across multiple federal agencies and has led to a series of overburdened queues, opaque and disjointed processing, and an on average 13- month turnaround for cases.”
“Delays [are due] to a lack of staff responsible for implementing the Cyber Excepted Service program. Currently, the department only has five people dedicated to hiring the thousands of IT specialists needed across the enterprise.”
“The government’s lengthy security clearance process is making it harder for the Defense Department to hire top tech and cyber talent, Pentagon officials told Congress on Tuesday.
They also said the department has yet to take full advantage of the Cyber Excepted Service program, a special authority meant to make it easier to bring IT specialists into the workforce.
As the Pentagon ramps up investment in artificial intelligence, cloud services and other emerging tech, its appetite for digital expertise is growing. But scant resources and surplus bureaucracy are hampering recruitment efforts, officials said, and the talent gap isn’t spread evenly across the enterprise.
Chief among the obstacles facing the department is the government’s lengthy hiring process, according to Brig. Gen. Dennis Crall, the Pentagon’s deputy principal cyber adviser.
“The onboarding process can be very frustrating,” Crall told the House Armed Services Emerging Threats subpanel. “If we can’t bring [IT specialists] on quickly because they’re held up in the security clearance process, it’s [possible] that they lose some interest and we don’t garner the result we’re looking for.”
The clearance process, which can take nearly a year to complete in some cases, has long plagued the government defense and intelligence communities. The Pentagon is expected to take over all federal background checks later this year.
But beyond security clearances, the Pentagon also faces organizational barriers to building a robust tech workforce, according to Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy. While components like U.S. Cyber Command and the Defense Information Systems Agency are “well on their way” to amassing the talent they need, the individual branches haven’t had as much success, he said.
“The department’s cyber workforce is critical to our mission success,” Deasy said, but “the [personnel and readiness] organizations in the respective [military] services need to train up at a faster rate the people they need to bring onboard.”
Crall attributed the delays to a lack of staff responsible for implementing the Cyber Excepted Service program. Currently, the department only has five people dedicated to hiring the thousands of IT specialists needed across the enterprise, and it needs to double the size of the team to meet existing demands, he said. Crall added that he recently submitted a request for more manpower to Deasy’s office.
He also said the department could better utilize its relationship with academia to build a pipeline for tech talent.
While the Pentagon works to streamline the hiring process and expand its tech workforce, the talent gap at civilian agencies is growing at an even faster rate. At some agencies, more than half the tech workforce is within 10 years of retirement, and officials are struggling to recruit the next generation of feds to replace them.”
“The DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility’s current legal position is that ownership of marijuana stocks is considered involvement in drug-related activities, and would be a “reportable incident” under the continuous evaluation process.
Potentially, it could lead to the loss of security clearances for service members, contractors and DoD civilians.”
“If you work for the Defense Department, owning one of the most talked about and potentially lucrative stocks on the market may put your job in jeopardy.
Owning the stocks could prevent someone from gaining a security clearance as well.
The policy was first publicly circulated in a recent post by the Facebook group Air Force amn/nco/snco. A Pentagon spokeswoman later confirmed its accuracy to Federal News Network. The post included an email sent from Air Combat Command’s headquarters, quoting answers it had been sent by the DoDCAF. The policy in the email affects all DoD employees and contractors, not just airmen.
The ACC email said DoDCAF treats “investments in marijuana-related companies as ‘involvement,’ which is prohibited. Even in cases where the subject him/herself isn’t directly choosing the stocks, he or she has the responsibility to stay informed and avoid violating the federal law.”
The email goes on to say that “stock ownership must be reported and the DoDCAF will determine if the ‘involvement raises questions about the individual’s judgement, reliability, trustworthiness and willingness to comply with the laws, rules and regulations, including federal laws,” the email said.
Marijuana stocks are all the buzz on Wall Street. Companies involved in marijuana products are showing big gains in the stock market, as they continue to make deals with companies like Constellation Brands Inc., the parent company of Corona beer, and the Altria Group Inc., owner of a handful of cigarette brands.
The reaffirmation of policy may force DoD employees to look harder at their financial statements. Marijuana stocks are finding their way into some mutual funds. For example, Vanguard’s Developed Markets Index Fund owns shares in Aurora Cannabis, Canopy Growth and other marijuana-affiliated companies.
“Recognizing that many states have legalized marijuana, it is still something that is prohibited under federal law,” Carol Thompson, partner at The Federal Practice Group, told Federal News Network. “Holding a federal security clearance with one of the adjudicated guidelines being involvement with drugs or drug use, then purchasing any kind of stock of that nature — especially if it’s intentional or knowing — could be seen as supporting something, under federal law, that is still illegal.”
Thompson said any individual with a security clearance or who is applying for one will have to make their financial information readily available to the government.
“You are supposed to disclose all of your financials,” Thompson said. “If you do have specific stocks, you do have the obligation to disclose them when filling out the security clearance application. You’re probably going to be asked about it during the background investigation phase.”
While all of those materials are required, a U.S. government official told Federal News Network that it would be tough for DoD to enforce the policy for every stock in a mutual fund. The official said DoD would be more likely to enforce the policy on someone who is directly involved with a marijuana dispensary or farm.
It also may not be high on DoD’s list of offenses considering the military needs people with clearances quickly, and at the end of 2018 the security clearance backlog stood at nearly 600,000.
Still, if you do hold a security clearance or are apply for one, Thompson said it is wise to go through your investments and understand what you’re investing in.
“I would advise against knowingly investing,” Thompson said. “If there is a situation where an investment is made, you don’t know about it, but once you do know about it you take certain steps to eradicate or fix that, then certainly that would be something in your favor.”
“Pentagon officials said that over the next three years, the Defense Department will take responsibility for all background investigations involving its military and civilian employees and contractors.
Plans to transfer responsibility from the Office of Personnel Management to the Pentagon for all of the roughly 3.6 million Pentagon employees, directed by defense legislation for fiscal 2017, are already in the works.”
“The Defense Department is poised to take over background investigations for the federal government, using increased automation and high-tech analysis to tighten controls and tackle an enormous backlog of workers waiting for security clearances, according to U.S. officials.
The change aims to fix a system whose weaknesses were exposed by the case of a Navy contractor who gunned down a dozen people at Washington’s Navy Yard in 2013. He was able to maintain a security clearance despite concerns about his mental health and an arrest that investigators never reviewed.
Problems had earlier surfaced with former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who now lives in Russia to avoid charges for disclosing classified material, and Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, who went to prison for leaking classified documents, triggering calls to update the antiquated system to include more frequent criminal and financial checks of workers who have security clearances.
Another problem has been delays: a backlog of about 700,000 people, including high-ranking federal officials waiting as much as a year to get clearances. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, for example, received his permanent clearance just a few weeks ago, more than 16 months after Trump took office. The delay, his lawyer said, was caused by the backlog in the new administration and Kushner’s extensive financial wealth, which required lengthy review.
According to a U.S. official, the White House is expected to soon give the department Authority to conduct security reviews for nearly all other government agencies as well. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the decision before it was publicly announced.
The new program will involve a system of continuous checks that will automatically pull and analyze workers’ criminal, financial, substance abuse and eventually social media data on a more regular basis, rather than only every five or 10 years as it is done now.
Garry Reid, director for defense intelligence, said the shift of responsibility to the Pentagon will allow OPM officials to begin eating away at the current backlog of about 700,000, of which roughly 500,000 are Defense Department workers. The Pentagon won’t take over any of the backlogged cases because they are already underway in OPM.
While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is the executive agent for the program, and sets the guidelines for the security requirements based on federal investigative guidelines. OPM and the Pentagon carry out the vetting process, working with the DNI.
Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said at his confirmation hearing last month that by mid-June the national intelligence director would issue guidance to departments and agencies to update 2012 federal investigative standards used to vet for security clearances. He said the government also was working on ways to allow contractors and federal workers to move more seamlessly between the private sector and government without having to get new clearances.
Evanina said changes could result in a 20 percent reduction in the backlog within six months.
In the first year, the Pentagon will take over investigations for those seeking a renewal of their secret clearance, then over the next two years will take on those seeking their initial secret clearance and then move to employees seeking top secret renewals and initial clearances, said Reid, in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
According to Reid, about 20 people are already on board setting up the program and 350 more will be hired in the coming months.
It will cost an additional $40 million for fiscal year 2019. But over time, he said, the department expects to spend “significantly less” than the current $1.3 billion price tag for the program because of the increased automation and other savings.
A key problem contributing to the backlog is that field investigations into workers seeking security clearances can take up to 500 days, as investigators scour records and conduct interviews with neighbors and other acquaintances of the employee.
An analysis of the process, said Reid, found that 50 percent of the investigators’ workloads involves tasks such as driving around the country, finding sources and looking for people to talk to about the employees.
Using more automated and continuous checks, he said, “can find out that same information that’s taking hundreds of days and frankly a billion dollars a year to do, and collect similar information.”
As an example, he said an automated check could reveal information in the national criminal database about an incident that wasn’t otherwise reported or communicated between a local law enforcement agency and the military.
Carrie L. Wibben, the Pentagon’s director of counterintelligence and security, said that as a result, the department is discovering problems years before investigators would have turned them up in regularly scheduled five or 10-year checks.
Workers with secret clearance are re-evaluated every 10 years, and those with top secret clearances are checked every five years.
She also said that through advanced technology, the department will be able to determine specific risk factors for workers based on their histories, and then set up automatic checks and analyses to watch for problems. For example, an employee who had some minor financial problems might get their credit checked more frequently.
Already the department has started the continuous evaluation process for about 1.1 million employees, and since January, 58 workers have had their security clearances revoked.
While social media can provide a massive amount of information about people, it also presents a challenge.
Wibben said the department has done pilot programs to assess the value, but so far she said the Pentagon is not scouring workers’ social media accounts for information.
“The challenge of social media in general is the fidelity of it — you can’t believe everything you read on the internet,” said Reid, adding that researching everyone’s internet postings would be wasteful and erroneous. “So we have the authority, frankly, to do more, but to make it effective is something we’re still really researching.”
But even as the number of clearances drops, the backlog of pending clearance investigations remains a problem. “
“The number of individuals holding federal government security clearances continues to drop, according to a new report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). According to the analysis, slightly more than 4 million government employees and contractors held clearances for access to classified information in fiscal year 2016, a 4 percent decrease from the previous year, and a 20 percent decrease from the peak of 5.1 million in FY 2013.
The report found that processing times for the longest cases increased at most agencies in FY 2016, and that there were more investigations pending for more than four months than in previous years.
Delays and backlogs have gotten worse since U.S. Investigations Services LLC (USIS)—the company that had screened and approved Snowden and Navy-Yard shooter Aaron Alexis—was given the heave-ho in 2014 after suffering a massive data breach. The company was also facing a fraud lawsuit accusing it of submitting thousands of background checks that were either incomplete or not properly reviewed—a lawsuit USIS and its parent company settled in 2015 for $30 million without admitting any fault or wrongdoing. USIS was the government’s key provider of background investigations.
According to the report, the intelligence agencies “are still negatively impacted by limited number of background investigators available.”
We were surprised ODNI withheld certain data this year that had been included in previous reports. Specifically, the report does not break down the number of clearances held by government employees versus contractors, nor does it identify agencies by name. Omitting this information prevents the public from digging deeper into the findings—just check out the Project On Government Oversight’s analysis of ODNI’s FY 2015 report to get an idea of what’s been lost. (Extrapolating from past reports, we can estimate that roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of individuals holding federal security clearances in FY 2016—between 2.7 million and 3.1 million people—were government employees, and the rest were contractor employees.)
ODNI told the Federation of American Scientists it removed this information because it “might be of value to our adversaries.” Given that these particular statistics for earlier years are still publicly accessible—presumably without causing any harm to our national security—POGO isn’t buying the government’s explanation. We hope the Freedom of Information Act can pry this information loose.”
“Better management — is precisely what’s needed to reduce the backlog of more than 700,000 security-clearance applications, up from 570,000 in 2016.
The wait for a top-secret security clearance averages 18 months, even if it’s just to renew an existing clearance. Each day, the U.S. falls further behind.”
“Whether Jared Kushner regains his top-secret security clearance is ultimately a decision for his father-in-law, President Donald Trump. That Kushner’s status remains in limbo, like that of scores of his White House colleagues, speaks to the dysfunction of the security-clearance system itself.
It’s useful to distinguish Kushner’s case from the systemic problem. Considering the sheer delinquency of his application for a clearance, it’s not surprising that Kushner still hasn’t received one: His original filing contained at least 100 errors or omissions that he later corrected. Kushner’s habit of taking undisclosed meetings with foreign governments have added to doubts about his trustworthiness.
Though Kushner was given an interim clearance at the start of the administration, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has barred all aides without permanent clearances from continuing to handle top-secret material. At least 30 administration officials have had their clearances downgraded, including Kushner, but none have lost their jobs. That’s appropriate, though it also illustrates how nepotism complicates good management.
A Government Accountability Office investigation found that only 2 percent of federal agencies are meeting government targets for processing security-clearance applications.
While a limited number of senior officials, like Kushner, are permitted to work with interim clearances, the overwhelming majority of prospective federal employees and contractors aren’t. This is a big reason why important national-security jobs remain unfilled.
It would be one thing if there were any evidence that lengthy background investigations actually weed out large numbers of potential leakers. But fewer than 1 percent of applicants are denied security clearances — which suggests that the process could be streamlined without putting state secrets at risk.
A bill in Congress would require the National Background Investigations Bureau, which oversees security clearances, to submit quarterly reports on the size of clearance backlogs and average wait times. That would at least allow the public to gauge progress.
Going forward, the government should renew active security clearances through continuous evaluations, rather than full background investigations. It should also exempt workers with clearances from being re-investigated if they switch jobs. Finally, agencies should identify jobs, especially entry-level positions and internships, that shouldn’t require security clearances in the first place.
A single security breach can do significant harm, so the vetting process itself needs to remain rigorous. But there are ways to make the overall system more efficient. The alternative is a government, no matter who’s in charge, that is less informed and effective than it should be.”