Lawmakers Want More Oversight of Security Clearances

“It’s outrageous it’s never been audited,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “It’s outrageous it’s never been audited,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

A bipartisan chorus of lawmakers criticized the federal government’s lack of standards and oversight of government-issued security clearances at a hearing held Thursday in light of Edward Snowden’s leak of sensitive information.

The hearing -- held jointly by  Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittees on the federal workforce and contracting oversight -- focused on a revolving fund used to conduct investigations and the range of approaches used for clearance investigations.

The Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Investigative Service uses the revolving account, rather than appropriated funds. Each agency pays into the fund when it requires a clearance investigation. OPM took over responsibilities for the investigations from the Defense Department in 2005.

The revolving fund has never been audited, however, OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland told the panel. McFarland said that typically an audit on a fund within OPM will be paid for with money in that fund.  Recently departed OPM Director John Berry refused to allow the IG to do this with the revolving fund -- which takes in about $1 billion annually.

“It’s outrageous it’s never been audited,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo, chairwoman of the contracting oversight subcommittee. “It ought to be as easy as brushing your teeth.”

Brenda Farrell, the Government Accountability Office’s defense capabilities and management director, said another major problem with security clearance investigations is the lack of governmentwide standard for what constitutes a proper review.

“Guidance does not exist,” Farrell said. “That is what I’m telling you.”

The George W. Bush administration created the Performance Accountability Council in 2008 to attempt to clarify what a proper investigation should look like, but “there’s still work to do,” Associate Director of the Federal Investigative Service Merton Miller conceded. GAO has estimated that 87 percent of investigations conducted for the Defense Department were incomplete.

Farrell added FIS has failed to adopt the vast majority of GAO’s recommendations.

The hearing was called after Edward Snowden -- a former employee at the National Security Agency and government contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton -- made public classified information.

USIS -- the largest contractor tasked with conducting background investigations on employees and contractors seeking security clearances -- conducted Snowden’s clearance investigation, and is currently under investigation by OPM’s IG.

“We do believe there may be some problems [with Snowden’s background check],” McFarland said.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the federal workforce subcommittee chairman, blamed the problems on the lack of standardization.

“Different responsibilities, different standards, different metrics different everything,” Tester said. “So this issue comes up with Snowden and we shouldn’t be surprised at all.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.