December deadline set for security clearance database

The Office of Personnel Management and a yet-to-be-named federal organization have until December to develop a database of all the security clearance information for federal and private sector workers.

Under the Security Clearances section of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, P.L. 108-796, President Bush by the end of March must select a single department or part of the executive branch to direct the day-to-day oversight of security investigations and adjudications. That organization also would develop and implement standard policies and procedures for investigations, and ensure reciprocal recognition between federal agencies of security clearances. Bush signed the bill into law Dec. 17.

This entity, along with OPM, will integrate all existing clearance information into one database that will be used by authorized agencies and private sector companies.

'This will be a clearinghouse for all clearance information,' said John Cuaderes, a senior professional staff member on the House Government Reform Committee. 'All agencies will have the ability to check a person's security information online instead of asking for a copy to be sent via fax or mail.'

Cuaderes spoke today at a panel discussion on security clearances in Vienna, Va., sponsored by the Information Technology Association of America, an Arlington, Va., trade association.

He said this database will have the biggest impact on reinvestigations of current employees' security clearances. Some estimate this type of investigation makes up most of the 500,000-case backlog OPM and the Defense Department are facing.

The Defense Department and the CIA are testing software, called the Automated Continuing Evaluation System, which addresses this reinvestigation of employees with top secret, secret and confidential clearances.

The software automatically identifies information that would assist in the evaluation of cleared individuals to determine their suitability for continued clearance, according to testimony given last year before the House Government Reform Committee by Heather Anderson, the Defense Department's director of strategic integration and acting director of security.

ACES checks credit reports, FBI criminal history, Treasury large-currency transaction filings, foreign travel and real estate ownership records.

'Security clearances have been a problem for a long time, and it is costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars,' said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee. 'We can legislate whatever we want, but at the end of the day, it is up to the executive branch to take care of this problem. We will hold their feet to the fire to make sure the issues get resolved.'

Davis authored the security clearance provision in the Intelligence law, which requires 80 percent of all clearances to be done within 120 days, starting in December 2006. It also mandates that agencies accept other agencies' clearances.

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