Congress aims to clear backlog of security clearances

What the new law will require

  • By the end of March, the administration must name an agency to oversee the government security clearance process. The agency must develop and implement standard policies and procedures for investigations.

  • By December, the agency must work with the Office of Personnel Management to create a database of all security clearance information about federal and contract employees.

  • By December of next year, 80 percent of clearances must be completed within 120 days. They now take on average 375 days, according to the Government Accountability Office.

  • Agencies must accept one another's clearances.

  • The new clearance agency must evaluate other technology that the government can use to grant interim clearances and for expediting the clearance process.
  • New mandate calls for central database by year's end

    More than 500,000 federal and contract employees are stuck in limbo, unable to do the work the government hired them to do.

    Why? Because these workers are waiting for the Office of Personnel Management or the Defense Department to issue them security clearances.

    The government's backlog in providing clearances has affected its efforts to fight crime, protect the homeland and perform intelligence analysis, lawmakers argue. There is also a more tangible cost: Agencies end up paying more to temporarily use contractors with top-secret and secret clearances when federal workers with these security ratings are unavailable.

    'Needed work is not getting done, and it is costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars,' said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.
    Davis expects changes within the next two years because of new congressional requirements he penned for the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Signed into law by the president in December, the act will force the government to:
    • Centralize oversight of the clearance process under a single agency

    • Create a database by December of all security clearance records

    • Significantly speed the reviews process by December 2006

    • Consider ways to apply new technologies to make the process more efficient.

    Defense has long been working on applications to improve clearance processing. It is focusing on what it considers one of the easiest problems to solve: the handling of investigations for feds and contractors who need their clearances reapproved.

    The Government Accountability Office in May found DOD's total clearance backlog was 188,000 cases, including 61,000 reinvestigations that had yet to be submitted to the Defense Security Service.

    The government requires that government and contract employees with top-secret clearances be reinvestigated every five years and those with secret clearances every 10 years.

    Janice Haith, chief operating officer and CIO of Defense Security Service, said its pilot Automated Continuing Evaluation System (ACES) uses government and commercial databases to search for information on military, civilian and contract employees.

    DOD has been testing ACES since the summer, and 15,000 employees with top-secret clearances were randomly selected for reinvestigation using the system.

    Haith said ACES runs under Solaris on a Sun Microsystems Inc. server and stows its data in an Oracle9i database. The ACES pilot contractor, Northrop Grumman Corp., crafted algorithms and logic parameters to flag potential problems. If an employee's record is flagged, DSS personnel determine if further investigation is necessary.

    Haith said ACES searches 27 databases, including credit reports, FBI criminal histories, currency transactions, foreign travel data and real estate records.

    The ACES test ends this month. After reviewing the results, DSS will issue a request for proposals by the end of April for a contractor to develop the system.

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