DOD fine-tunes its draft plan for foreign nationals holding IT jobs

The Defense Department has rethought plans to disqualify foreign nationals from jobs involving the use of sensitive but unclassified information technology.

If would-be Defense workers pass background investigations and get letters of approval from the agency chiefs seeking to employ them, the department will allow the hires to proceed, senior DOD managers said last month.

Defense agency chiefs, however, are being encouraged to hire U.S. citizens first for sensitive IT positions, said Pete Nelson, DOD's deputy director for personnel security. Foreign nationals can still work on systems within DOD provided they are 'properly vetted for the material to which they have access,' he said.

Industry worries

When DOD issued its no-foreigners proposal in March, some industry officials expressed concern that the rule would call for foreign nationals to be removed from positions in which they would handle sensitive but unclassified information.

Such data could include personnel information such as health records or Social Security numbers or information on weapons systems.

'There is no per-se rule to disqualify foreign nationals other than to encourage use of U.S. citizens in [sensitive but unclassified] positions, but that is ultimately up to the system owner or agency head,' Nelson said.

The issue of whether foreign nationals should be permitted to work in sensitive IT jobs at the department continues to receive a lot of attention.

Harris N. Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va., wrote a letter to Pete Aldridge, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, condemning the plan.

The proposal would make it more costly and difficult for DOD to acquire critical IT services, Miller said.

'The implications could be substantial,' he said. 'Public policy must be based on real-world actions and tangible threats'not supposition and innuendo. Noncitizens have repeatedly played a critical role in developing and refining U.S. military technologies.'

Nelson says the policy is in keeping with the framework of the Insider Threat Mitigation Report, a set of recommendations released in 2000 by top Defense security brass to reduce potential threats posed by inside employees. The workers could be military members, contractors, civilians or employees of other federal agencies.

'The threat to Defense information has never been greater,' the report said. 'As an example, the environment for espionage is particularly conducive to the collection and sale of technical weapons system information.'

The threat within

An Insider Threat Integrated Process Team, made up of senior Defense officials, found that department computers were particularly vulnerable to abuse or misuse by insiders.

The team cited a Defense inspector general report that found that for one set of investigations, 87 percent of identified intruders were employees.

Nelson insisted the department would require U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals to pass background investigations to gain access to secure data.

It is still unclear how many contractors could be affected by the proposal.

DOD expects to issue a final policy by September.

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