OMB aims to further streamline security clearance process

The Office of Management and Budget announced this week the details of its plan to streamline the security clearance process for employees and contractors working for intelligence agencies. OMB aims ultimately to reduce the time it takes to investigate and process such clearances from the current 112 days to 60 days, said Clay Johnson, the agency's deputy director of management.

In a Thursday conference call, Johnson said the time frame for the plan's implementation would not be outlined until a June 30 executive order is issued, but the structure will be in place by the end of 2008 so security clearance reform can continue into the next administration. "We have been making security clearance determinations the same way for 50 years, and it's time to change the way we do that," he said.

The plan relies on an automated verification system using government and commercial databases to save time and reduce manual labor in hiring and clearing workers who handle classified information. The reforms, prompted by a Feb. 5 memo from President Bush directing the federal government to modernize its security clearance process, also include developing an electronic application to collect comprehensive biographic details of each candidate, requiring reinvestigations of employees and contractors to better identify security risks, and developing a computer system that identifies and grants "clean" applications for Secret clearances -- allowing agency adjudicators to focus on more complex cases.

Johnson did not provide any cost estimates for the reforms, which have different target dates for implementation. "If you do it all in a very short period of time it's very expensive, and if you implement it over a longer period of time, it's less expensive," he said.

The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act resulted in more resources devoted to improving the security clearance process. OMB managed to reduce the time it took to make security clearance decisions from 162 days to the current average of 112 days. The law mandates that the process be streamlined even further to 60 days. OPM oversees roughly 9,000 employees responsible for processing security clearances governmentwide.

"The current system -- even though it's improved -- taking as long as it does, means it's hard for [contractors] to get their contract employees on the field," said Johnson. He added that contractors have pushed to post 100 percent of their applications on eQIP, an electronic clearance submissions system, to streamline the clearance process.

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