The government’s security clearance process can help protect classified information. But due to concerns with timeliness, IT security, and more, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) added this vetting process to its High Risk List in 2018.
On December 9, GAO said that the government has made progress on vetting reforms. For example, the executive branch has reduced the investigations backlog and started developing IT systems to modernize the vetting process. However, the watchdog also noted that work remains.
GAO’s review found that the Security, Suitability, and Credentialing Performance Accountability Council (PAC) Principals—comprising the Deputy Director for Management of the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security—have made progress in implementing Trusted Workforce 2.0, which is a reform of personnel vetting processes.
According to GAO, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has formalized requirements to enroll the eligible national security population in continuous evaluation (CE), but has not assessed program performance. CE entails enrolling employees in IT systems that conduct automated record checks on a frequent basis. As of March 2021, about three-quarters of the eligible national security population in executive branch agencies were enrolled in a CE system, according to ODNI officials. In 2017 GAO recommended that ODNI develop performance measures to evaluate CE and a plan to address its impact on agency resources. ODNI concurred with GAO’s recommendation but has delayed taking actions in response and will not do so until CE is fully implemented, according to ODNI officials. GAO believes his lack of progress may warrant congressional consideration, as it could limit ODNI’s and congressional decision-makers’ ability to assess the effectiveness and impact of continuous evaluation.
The review also found that The Department of Defense (DOD) does not have a reliable schedule to help manage the National Background Investigation Services (NBIS) system. DOD has been developing NBIS since 2016, and DOD plans to replace the IT systems it currently uses to manage the background investigation process with NBIS. GAO assessed the NBIS schedule using GAO best practices and found it did not meet the characteristics of a reliable schedule. By aligning the NBIS schedule with the characteristics of a reliable schedule, GAO believes DOD could improve the likelihood of completing NBIS on schedule and improve decision-making during the program’s development. Further, GAO said DOD has taken limited strategic workforce planning steps for its entire personnel vetting workforce because it has not established a milestone for doing so.
GAO recommends that DOD revise the NBIS schedule to fully meet the characteristics of a reliable schedule and establish a milestone to complete strategic workforce planning. DOD concurred and stated that the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency has an effort underway that would encompass its entire civilian workforce.
GAO also wants Congress to consider requiring the DNI to develop performance measures for CE. ODNI stated that it has already developed performance measures to assess the efficacy and impact of CE automated record checks. GAO responded that during its review, ODNI officials said that they have not analyzed metrics or used them to develop performance measures to assess agency performance on CE. ODNI officials told GAO that developing performance measures would not be possible until CE was fully implemented, and did not have a time frame for developing CE-related performance measures.