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GAO Report on Personnel Security Clearances

Posted by Rob Riggins

The General Accounting Office (GAO) Report on Personnel Security Clearances released last Thursday does lots of finger pointing. The bad guys are the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

This is a very high-level report so it’s a broad brush of the subject matter, but there are some valid “wow you’re kidding” moments to be found in the report. On the other hand a fair amount of the data referenced seems to be a couple years old. Why?

As we all know, underdesignating cleared positions can lead to security risks. Overdesignating cleared positions can result in significant cost implications. Surprisingly, OPM’s investigation process has not been studied for process efficiencies or cost savings.

OPM’s FY2011 budget was over $1billion to conduct over 2 million background investigations. The 2012 “base price” for a top secret clearance investigation by OPM was $4,005; for a secret clearance $260.

In the report GAO recommends three areas for improvement:

1.    Sound requirements determination process

DNI hasn’t given agencies clearly defined policies and procedures to determine if a civilian position requires a clearance. Nor have they established guidance to require government agencies to review and revise or validate existing federal civilian position designations.

Agencies are currently using an OPM-developed tool to determine the type of investigation needed for a position. An OPM April, 2012, audit reviewed the sensitivity levels of 39 positions in a DOD agency and OPM reached different conclusions than the agency for 26 of them. OPM and ODNI didn’t collaborate on development of the position designation tool.

2.    Performance metrics to measure quality

Efforts to improve the security process have emphasized timeliness but not quality. GAO estimates that in 87% of investigative reports it reviewed, DOD adjudicators were missing required documentation. How does OPM currently assess quality? Through voluntary reporting from customer agencies.

3.    Guidance to enhance efficiencies

OPM has focused on investigation timeliness and investigation backlogs vs process efficiencies. In November, 2010, OMB testified that OPM received 98% of investigation applications electronically, yet they still used a paper-based investigation processing system and converted electronic documents to paper. OPM said this is necessary because a small portion of their customer agencies don’t have electronic capabilities.

Department of Defense (DOD) developed a Case Adjudication Tracking System (CATS) that helped process Secret clearance cases more efficiently. According to DOD officials, CATS could easily be deployed to other agencies at a low cost. However five other agencies were developing or seeking funds to develop their own similar systems.

Check out the full Personnel Security Clearances report here.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, June 22, 2013 2:49 pm

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