GAO: Executive Branch Agencies Still Need to Reform Security Clearances

Executive branch agencies still need to implement key reforms to speed up the security clearance process, according to a GAO report.

GAO found that while ODNI, NBIB and other agencies have introduced some reforms, there are still key initiatives that need to be put into practice to clear the longstanding backlog. Agencies are still struggling with implementing some aspects of the 2012 Federal Investigative Standards, which is the criteria for conducting background investigations.

The report also found that neither the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) nor the Interagency Security, Suitability, and Credentialing Performance Accountability Council (PAC) have set a milestone for establishing performance measures yet.

GAO also found that the number of agencies meeting objectives for initial secret and top-secret security clearances and periodic re-investigations has dropped. In 2012, only 73 percent did not meet these objectives, but by 2016 98 percent of agencies were not meeting them.

According to NBIB data, the backlog of pending background investigations jumped from 190,000 in 2014 to 710,000 in 2018 – partly down to the challenges agencies are facing in meeting timeliness objectives. GAO says that NBIB has not developed a plan to reduce this backlog to a more manageable level.

ODNI’s program of continuous evaluation could have an effect on individual agency resources, too, according to GAO, although so far the potential impact is unknown. In the report, GAO recommends that the Director of National Intelligence assess the potential effects of continuous evaluation on agency resources and develop a plan, in consultation with implementing agencies, to address those effects, such as modifying the scope and changing the frequency of periodic re-investigations, or replacing them altogether, for certain clearance holders.

GAO also noted that the NDAA will have a significant impact on the security clearance process, especially as it authorized DoD to carry out its own background investigations and required it to begin carrying out an implementation plan by 2020.

“These changes could potentially affect timeliness, the backlog, and other reform initiatives but the effect is unknown at this time,” GAO said. “DOD’s investigations represent the majority of the background investigations conducted by NBIB.”

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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