A Reform Plan to Improve the Security Clearance Mess

Posted by Bob Wheeler

Security Clearance ReformOn March 7, 2018 industry leaders from organizations that operate in the security cleared environment testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding the problems with the current systems that have resulted in a backlog of over 700,000 cases.

Six Steps to Security Clearance Improvement

As part of the discussion, Kevin Phillips, CEO of ManTech International laid out six key points that he felt could help improve the situation. Topping his list was the issue of security clearance reciprocity. Phillips other suggestions included:

  • Increasing funding to grow investigation capacity
  • Prioritizing existing cases
  • Continuous evaluation
  • Congressional leadership and focus
  • Increasing mobility and portability

But it was the twin topics of better use of technology and reciprocity that kept coming up.

When Committee Chairman Richard Burr asked the panel to identify the single biggest issue affecting the backlog, David Berteau from the Professional Services Council, which represents over 400 small, medium, and large business providing services to government agencies, like Phillips, identified reciprocity as his number one issue.

When it comes to technology, Senator Warner opened his remarks reminding everyone that the current system of adjudicating clearances was instituted in 1947 saying that it was “built for a time when there was a small industry component and government workers stayed at their agency for their entire career.” But as the landscape has changed and more people work in private industry, frequently changing jobs, the methods for investigating these workers has not kept up.

He stated that the government still too often relies on “duplicative, manual intensive, shoe leather, field investigations” while not embracing new technologies such as Big Data and Artificial Intelligence that many feel can assess an individual’s trustworthiness in far more efficient ways. He added that these failures in regard to timely adjudication negatively impact individuals, individual companies, government agencies and the military. “We need a revolution to our system.” Warner said.

The Four Ones

Jane Chappell, Raytheon’s VP of Global Intelligence Solutions testified about “The Four Ones” as a way to bring about better efficiency and improve the recruitment and retention of cleared talent.  She stated we should be leveraging advances in technology so that we have:

  • One Application
  • One Investigation
  • One Adjudication
  • One Clearance

All recognized across the government and transferable between different departments, agencies, and contracts.

There was little disagreement in terms of the impact on the workforce. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma stated that in his dealing with Chief Human Capital Officers from the various agencies they’ve also told him that reciprocity issues are a detriment to the mission. “It not only creates a backlog,” he said, “But it’s also a demand issue. We have to go through [investigations] again, and again, and again for the same person and it’s a nuisance for the person going through it for the third time.”  Senator Lankford added that this redundancy “decreases our federal hiring and the speed of actually getting good people on the job.”

Brenda Farrell from the Government Accountability Office noted that there has never been a real historical baseline to quantify the extent that reciprocity may work or may not work, and that despite recommendations there is still no real data. She added anecdotally that “many years ago it was believed that reciprocity was not working because agencies didn’t trust the quality of the investigations that someone else had done.”

Farrell later explained that one of the problems with reciprocity is that despite current statutes allowing for reciprocity of security clearances, there is a lack of current guidance from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on how reciprocity should be applied.

Whether or not the testimony leads to improvements in the system is yet to be seen, but as the first half of the hearing came to close Chairman Richard Burr said that he was optimistic, stating “Hopefully, a year from now you will come back and tell us what great things have happened.”

View the testimony from ManTech’s Kevin Phillips and Senator Lankford in the clips below:


This entry was posted on Thursday, March 08, 2018 4:28 pm

One thought on “A Reform Plan to Improve the Security Clearance Mess”

  1. Reciprocity only works when intelligence community agencies (CIA, NSA) are willing to accept it. There are a few other agencies who won’t accept it either. They all feel they have to do their own investigation before they will accept will be satisfied with the results. If the DNI would hold these agencies accountable to accept reciprocity the maybe things would run smoother and faster.

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