Intelligence chief pushes security clearance reform

The new director of national intelligence said Wednesday that by adopting a commercial sector model, the government could save time and money issuing security clearances.

In his first speech since being sworn into the highest position in the U.S. intelligence community, Mike McConnell said American financial institutions are able to process the equivalent of a Top Secret clearance within two weeks. He said if the government follows their example, it would be able to bring in new employees at a faster rate, and the process would cost less.

McConnell said financial institutions are successful in reducing instances of dishonesty to nearly zero. He also said that once government employees have received clearances, it would be important to have "some sort of audit capability."

"My challenge to the community is to challenge the very foundation of why do we do it this way," McConnell said. "We're starting on that path … we're in the early stages, and changing the standards is a challenge."

He spoke at the Excellence in Government conference in Washington, an event sponsored by Government Executive.

The intelligence chief said he wanted to start a debate on reforming the laws and regulations that govern the intelligence community.

He said Americans are supportive of intelligence gathering during crisis situations, but not on a continuous basis.

"Our history has been that we build it for crisis, sustain it for war and then take it down," McConnell said. "The only time we sustained intelligence was coming out of World War II."

The laws established during the Cold War served well then, but they are not suited to fighting the war on terrorism, he said.

McConnell added that from the end of the Cold War to 2000, the U.S. intelligence and defense budgets have declined by 40 percent. One of the key areas that atrophied in the 1990s was the intelligence community's ability to purchase large-scale systems, due to the lack of program managers and engineers.

Last month, McConnell announced the creation of the position of deputy director for acquisition within his office. He said at the time that an increased emphasis on acquisition is necessary to rebuild the intelligence community.

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