In Focus: Clocking Clearances

As recently as 2007, if you were a federal employee or contractor who needed a security clearance to handle classified information you could expect to wait more than 100 days before your background investigation was complete. Now the average wait is little more than a month, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management.

Since the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act set timeliness standards for clearance processing, investigation times have plummeted by 75 percent. Under the 2004 law, agencies were expected to complete 80 percent of background checks within 90 days by fiscal 2007 and 90 percent within 40 days by fiscal 2009 -- plus 20 days for the adjudication process. Target times are longer for certain types of clearances.

The Obama administration has made strides in streamlining security clearances, according to the Government Accountability Office, which removed the process from its high-risk list in 2011. The Defense Department, which handles the majority of government security clearances, has vastly improved timeliness by standardizing investigation and adjudication procedures. 

But more work lies ahead, U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro noted in congressional testimony last year. “Emphasis on quality in clearance processes should promote positive outcomes,” he said, "including more reciprocity among agencies in accepting each other’s clearances."

Timeliness of Background Checks

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