Obama Unhappy With Senate Proposal to ‘Upend’ His Security Clearance Reform Plans

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The Senate on Thursday continued to debate a measure that would ignore the Obama administration’s attempt to bring the security clearance process under a new entity housed within the Office of Personnel Management and instead move Defense Department background investigations to the Pentagon.

The White House has issued a veto threat on the annual National Defense Authorization Act in part due to the security clearance provision, saying it would disrupt the creation of the National Background Investigations Bureau. OPM announced it would form NBIB in January and is currently in the process of standing up the new component.

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The authorization bill would allow the Defense Security Service to conduct all “personnel background and security investigations” by Oct. 1, 2017. Senate Armed Services Committee proponents of the change said it would strengthen insider threat detection programs by consolidating the collection, storage and retention of information that monitors employees in one place. It would also, they said, ease the coordination with private sector companies employing individuals who require clearances and might already have them from previous government work.

The Obama administration, however, said separating out the entities that conduct background checks would disrupt the system.

“This provision would undermine the ability of the federal government to achieve economies of scale by further fragmenting the investigation process while diminishing the security, effectiveness and efficiency of operations,” the White House wrote in a statement of administration policy.

The bill would “upend” the administration’s plans for NBIB and interfere with OPM’s proposal to leave the Pentagon in charge of cybersecurity and the information technology to support the security clearance process.

“It would also delay ongoing security clearance reform efforts,” the White House said, “and likely cause significant investigative delays.”

The defense authorization measure would require the department’s secretary to report by August 2016 on the number of employees the Defense Security Service would require to conduct the Pentagon’s background investigations. Obama has voiced a series of complaints about other provisions in the Defense authorization act. 

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