Senate Turns Focus to Security Clearance Reform

Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) has reintroduced a measure that would modernize the security clearance system. Warner hopes the Modernizing the Trusted Workforce for the 21st Century Act of 2019 will reduce the security clearance backlog while saving time and money.

The pillars of the legislation, as described by Senator Warner’s office, are that it would:

  • Hold the Executive Branch accountable for addressing the immediate background investigation backlog crisis.
  • Provide a plan for consolidating the National Background Investigation Bureau at the Department of Defense.
  • Implement practical reforms so that policies and clearance timelines can be designed to reflect modern circumstances. 
  • Require that reforms be implemented equally for all departments, and for personnel requiring a clearance, regardless of whether they are employed by the government or industry.
  • Strengthen oversight of the personnel vetting apparatus by codifying the Director of National Intelligence’s responsibilities as the Security Executive Agent.
  • Promote innovation, including by analyzing how a determination of trust clearance can be tied to a person, not to an agency’s sponsorship. 

Senator Warner wrote in a letter to the President, “The current vetting process for security clearances and positions of trust is too complicated, takes too long, costs too much, and fails to capitalize on modern technology and processes. We are taking too many security risks and losing talented people who are not willing to endure a years-long process. Our current system is broken and needs a revolution. In order to achieve our shared objectives, we must avoid politicizing and delaying reform efforts.”

Senator Warner’s office cites the recent decision by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to add the government-wide personnel security clearance process to the most recent High Risk Report as evidence of this pressing issue.

The GAO attributes this decision, in part, to “significant challenges related to the timely processing of security clearances, the implementation of key initiatives of the security clearance reform effort, and ensuring the quality of investigations.”

The GAO identified more than 700,000 incomplete security clearance cases as of September 2017, with the fastest 90 percent of initial responses taking 92 days to 125 days. Investigations for the fastest 90 percent of initial top secret security clearances ranged from 168 days to 208 days.

The GAO also criticized departments because only 12 of 43 recommendations to improve the security clearance process have been taken up by agencies over the last nine years.

The GAO reports that approximately 4.2 million government and contractor employees from nearly 80 executive branch agencies are eligible to hold a personnel security clearance.

FEDmanager previously reported on efforts to streamline the security clearance process by consolidating all security clearance functions under the purview of the DoD here.

Posted in From the Hill

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