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.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

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

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

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