Senators Unveil Bill to Tighten Security Clearances, Background Checks

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Susan Walsh/AP

Responding to the still-fluid case of rogue contractor Edward Snowden and his leaks of information on secret surveillance programs, a bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced legislation to beef up oversight of government background investigations and security clearances.

The Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act would require the government to update policy that determines who receives security clearances and calls for the firing or suspension of background check investigators and contractors who falsify reports.

Introduced by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the bill comes after a hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during which it became clear that the Falls Church, Va.-based contractor USIS, which handled Snowden’s background check for his Hawaii-based job at Booz Allen Hamilton, is under investigation.

“Recent events force us to take a close look at what the federal government is doing in the name of national security and how well we are protecting classified information,” said Tester, chairman of the panel’s Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce Subcommittee, in a joint press release. “This bill gives investigators the tools they need to hold folks accountable and protect our national security.”

McCaskill said, “Private contractors are doing a huge bulk of these background checks, and it’s nothing short of a national security threat if they’re not conducting those checks with the care and attention needed. …These new safeguards can bolster accountability, and go a long way to restore Americans’ trust in this area of our national security.”

The process for granting security clearances across the federal government is “broken,” Johnson said. “In conducting oversight of the process, we learned there is no governmentwide standard for granting security clearances.” Noting that the legislation would instruct the director of national intelligence to issue new governmentwide guidance within 180 days, Johnson added, “If a government employee or contractor is found to have falsified a background check, they will be terminated or debarred. This is just common sense.”

The bill would allow the Office of Personnel Management to use resources from its Revolving Fund to audit and investigate contractors that conduct background checks, and it would require them to remove investigators who submit false background checks from eligibility for further work.

Also on Wednesday, the four senators sent the Government Accountability Office a letter requesting a new examination of the security clearance process to produce recommendations for improvements.

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