Government overcomes security clearance backlog

By Andrew Lapin

June 22, 2012

The Obama administration has made noticeable strides in streamlining security clearance, according to auditors and officials.

Initial investigations take an average of 44 days to complete, down from 189 days in 2005, and the application backlog has been eliminated, according to Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who spoke at a hearing Thursday.

In 2011, the Government Accountability Office removed the process from its high-risk list, where it had been sitting since 2005.

“I think the overarching framework has worked very well,” said Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel.

Because the Defense Department handles the majority of government security clearances, it has shouldered the brunt of criticism about application backlogs. In his testimony, Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro praised Defense and the agencies it has collaborated with for establishing metrics to assess various aspects of clearances.

Dodaro emphasized, however, that removal from the high-risk list “doesn’t mean we don’t have a watchful eye on this going forward.”

In her testimony, Defense Deputy Chief Management Officer Elizabeth McGrath emphasized the department’s key efforts in reducing clearance time, including establishing the Performance Accountability Council with OMB, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The council, McGrath said in her opening statement, has standardized the investigation and adjudication procedures, and Defense now can adjudicate a clearance in seven days.

Charlie Sowell, deputy assistant director for special security with ODNI, said 22 agencies met their timeliness goals for 2011, while 19 reached their goals at times and five did not meet any of their goals.

Akaka led the hearing, the eighth on the subject and the last that will be held under his tenure. Akaka, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia, previously announced that he will not run for reelection in November.

In 2010, Akaka urged agencies to improve reciprocity by working together to accept clearances from other agencies. To that end, ODNI has established a reciprocity Web page where individuals can submit clearance issues directly to an agency, though Sowell noted it is difficult to measure reciprocity without real data.

Dodaro and GAO asked agencies to identify long-term funding requirements for keeping security clearances at a manageable length.

By Andrew Lapin

June 22, 2012