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Navigating a 'Difficult Triangle' of Security Clearance Interests

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“We’re getting to a place where reciprocity among agencies can be used to drive efficiencies, and agencies are asking about costs,” Joe Jordan said. “We’re getting to a place where reciprocity among agencies can be used to drive efficiencies, and agencies are asking about costs,” Joe Jordan said. Office of Management and Budget file photo

Weeks after leaving his post as the White House administrator for federal procurement policy, Joe Jordan returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to shed light on the Obama administration’s coming review of federal security clearance procedures launched in response to September’s Navy Yard shootings, and due in February.

Jordan -- now public sector president at the private online auction firm Fedbid -- praised the working group of officials from the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as “the best review group in government.” Its recommendations will reflect a “difficult triangle” that balances the need for the government to conduct its annual $1 billion worth of pre-hire and refresher employee background checks in a way that is high-quality and timely but also at a reasonable cost, he said. Perfection in security checks, though always the goal, is not easy.

“We’re getting to a place where reciprocity among agencies can be used to drive efficiencies, and agencies are asking about costs,” Jordan said. One emerging ethical issue, he noted, is whether an evaluator may fairly use evidence of derogatory information taken from photos a job applicant posted on social media. The Army has a pilot program to navigate this, Jordan said.

Co-panelists at the event, sponsored by Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., predicted that a future system will rely more on automated coordination among databases and on differentiating, when allocating resources, between security checks for contractors who come into facilities “to fill the Coke machine” and those who are given access to high-level national security information.
Speakers, who included CIA veteran John Fitzpatrick, Professional Services Council Executive Vice President Alan Chvotkin and Government Accountability Office specialist Brenda Farrell, also accepted that the background checks of the future will continue to rely heavily on contractors.

Jordan’s surprise move to Fedbid, which specializes in reverse auctions for agencies awarding contracts, has raised some eyebrows because such auctions -- designed to get agencies the lowest prices but which critics say can limit competition -- have been controversial at the Veterans Affairs Department, which has suspended them.

Asked about that by Government Executive, Jordan said, “I will let that run its course, but if Congress wants to ask me questions, I’d be happy to engage.” 

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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