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:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

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