DOD proposes oversight office for security clearance management

The Defense Department has proposed long-term measures, including a new internal oversight office, to prevent recurring problems that recently forced it to stop processing security clearances for industry, a high-level department official testified before Congress yesterday.

The scheduling of the House Government Reform Committee hearing prompted a swift response from DOD to resolve the crisis, which started at the end of April when the Defense Security Service initially halted processing clearance applications because of depleted funding and a high volume of applications.

In May, the agency stopped processing industry requests for new personnel security investigations and periodic reinvestigations.

Robert Andrews, deputy undersecretary of Defense for counterintelligence and security, testified at the hearing that he was putting in place a central oversight office within DSS to ensure the problem does not occur again.

'The department's senior leadership is committed to correcting the systemic problems that have been identified in the personnel security process,' Andrews said. 'The department recognizes that inadequate oversight was a major contributor to this problem.'

The new oversight office will:
  • Work with the larger DOD community, affected federal agencies and industry to develop a process that would link security investigation requirements and funding with DOD contractual requirements
  • Establish a system for prioritizing industry requests
  • Validate requirements for those investigations
  • Monitor, at first daily, the industry investigation process and develop 'trip wires' to reduce the need to impose a future suspension
  • Set up a communications network for DSS, the Office of Personnel Management Defense Department components, affected federal agencies and industry to ensure all parties are working within established priorities and budget.

In addition, the DOD's comptroller would work with DSS to develop a new process for preparing its budget submissions and would train DSS staff on accounting processes for managing its fiscal activity, Andrews said.

DSS also would continue to work with OPM to identify and track investigations submitted to OPM for processing as well as the related funding, he said. OPM offers background investigation services to DSS and other agencies for security clearance applications for civilian, military and contractor personnel.

Wrapping up his testimony, Andrews said DOD was prepared to hold periodic meetings with the House Government Reform Committee to report on its progress.

Andrews was one of six government officials to testify at the hearing. Other witnesses were Clay Johnson, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget; Robert Rogalski, special assistant to the DOD undersecretary for intelligence; Janice Haith, DSS' acting director; Kathy Dillaman, associate director of OPM's federal investigative services division; and Thomas Gimble, DOD's principal deputy inspector general. A three-member industry panel also testified.

DSS yesterday resumed processing initial secret-level security clearances for industry after coming up with $28 million. But the funds will only be enough for DSS to pay OPM to process requests through June.

DOD is responsible for about two million active personnel security clearances, about one-third of which are for industry working on Defense contracts and more than 20 other executive agencies, according to the Government Accountability Office.

GAO issued a report yesterday pointing out that costs underlying a billing dispute between DOD and OPM were, in part, responsible for delays in processing security clearances. It also said other major obstacles, such as inaccurate estimates of clearance volumes, could affect the timeliness of clearance-eligibility for industry and government personnel.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' subcommittee on oversight of the government management, the federal workforce and the District of Columbia held its third hearing on the security clearance process yesterday. The purpose of the hearing was to assess OPM's progress in addressing the backlog of security clearance investigations and examine DSS recent stoppage of processing security clearances for government contractors. The panel of government officials who testified at the House hearing, including Andrews, appeared before the Senate hearing.

Roseanne Gerin is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication, Washington Technology.

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