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Politicians and Security Clearances

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GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at National Harbor, Md., in March. GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at National Harbor, Md., in March. Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

Think your vote doesn’t matter? In addition to exercising your civic responsibility, you’re also carrying out a security responsibility, as well.

Members of Congress don’t go through the same background investigation process as you or me. The process of election is considered a public seal of access. When you elect a candidate into office – be it Congress or the Presidency – you in some sense grant them access to the classified information required for the position.

According to the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence: “There are no written rules, agreed to by both branches, governing what intelligence will be shared with the Hill or how it will be handled. The current system is entirely the product of experience, shaped by the needs and concerns of both branches over the last 20 years.”

What that means is that if a member of Congress or individual appointed to a government office needs access to classified information, they’re likely to get it.

What About Congressional Staff?

House and Senate staff members do undergo a security clearance background investigation process, as well as signing a non-disclosure agreement. Clearances are only granted to staff requiring access to classified information.

Both the Senate and House have security offices responsible for overseeing classified information and access. The Office of Senate Security was established in 1987, the Office of House Security was established in 2005. The Senate notably has a security manual governing the procedures and requirements of classified information. It applies to all Senate staff – but not to the Senators themselves.

A Security Double Standard?

If all of this strikes you as exceedingly unfair, you’re not alone. Former Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., introduced legislation in 2008 that would have required all members of the House to obtain a security clearance and go through the same background investigation process as other government employees.

The bill did not pass, and critics argued it would compromise the independence of the legislature. Other arguments that requiring a formal background investigation process would result in two classes – those with clearances and those without – and also that it would slow down the legislative process.

Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com and a former Defense Department employee.

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