Davis pushes for more action on security clearances

Legislation this year may force the Defense Department to speed its process for granting security clearances to private contractors and government personnel who need access to classified information on the job.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) today asked IT industry representatives testifying at a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee for recommendations to speed the process. The recommendations could be incorporated into the fiscal 2005 Defense Authorization Act or Defense Appropriations Act, said Davis, chairman of the committee.

He followed the hearing by writing a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asking that DOD immediately assign more people to help eliminate a backlog of 188,000 contractor security clearances, make sure that DOD agencies accept clearances granted by other agencies, and use the latest IT systems to process clearances.

"If over time these problems persist, I am confident that Congress will step in and legislate solutions. I encourage you to make solving the security backlog a top priority for your Department," Davis wrote.

Davis said the clearance backlog is hurting national security. In fiscal 2003, a security clearance took an average 375 days to complete ? far more than DOD's performance goal of 75 to 180 days, he said.

"When industry employees are hired to work in security programs but can't work on projects while they are waiting to be cleared, the contracts are not being completed and national security is jeopardized," Davis said.

Doug Wagoner, who testified for the Arlington, Va.-based Information Technology Association of America, said the group did not expect members of Congress would move so quickly toward a legislative solution.

"We see that as a very positive development. We thought the committee was going to recommend reviews of existing policy," said Wagoner, vice president and general manager of Fairfax, Va., Data Systems Analysts Inc.

Wagoner recommended that Congress require agencies to accept security clearances granted by other agencies, instead of re-doing the clearance process when workers transfer to work at a new agency. A 1995 executive order requires agencies to grant reciprocity, but agencies aren't following the rules, government and industry representatives testified.

Agency officials often say they don't accept clearances granted by other agencies for fear of accepting an potential security risk, said J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives and Records Administration. But the real risk to national security is lack of reciprocity, Leonard said. Agencies should not spend time investigating people who have already been deemed trustworthy; instead, they should devote resources to reducing "the current unacceptable delays in processing new initial clearance requests."

Wagoner also recommended that agencies be allowed to grant clearances to 20 percent more workers than are required on a contract. Currently, clearances can only be granted to workers who have a specific job that requires a clearance. If a cleared worker moves to another company, the contractor often can't fill the job right away because the contractor doesn't have a stable of cleared personnel.

The backlog has gotten so bad that 70 percent of respondents to a Northern Virginia Technology Council survey said that the only way they recruit cleared personnel is by luring them away from other contractors or the government, said Bobbie Kilberg, president of the trade group.

DOD and OPM officials said they are hiring more government and industry personnel to conduct security clearance investigations, in an effort to reduce the backlog. OPM conducts background investigations for DOD and civilian agencies.

OPM officials hope to soon award contracts to one or more companies for investigative services, said Steve Benowitz, associate director of human resources products and services.

DOD official Heather Anderson said the government needs about 8,000 investigators, but has only 5,300. She said the Defense Security Service, which conducts security clearances for DOD contractor personnel, is hiring 200 investigators. It could take two years to hire enough government and contractor personnel to eliminate the backlog, Anderson said.

DOD and OPM officials also said they were continuing to review policies to see where the clearance process could be improved.

But members of Congress demanded that the officials take further action immediately to eliminate the backlog.

"We've got a war on, and you're telling us to be patient, Ms. Anderson. It's not acceptable. If you were on the other side of the aisle, you'd say somebody's not doing their job," said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) "What's most frustrating is that you've never asked for any more people. Why?"

"The requirement for additional personnel has been a matter of longstanding debate at DOD," Anderson answered.

"Clearly you need more people. Let's stop studying it," Davis said. "Get back to us and tell us what you need. Legislative action is coming. It looks like it's time we mandate that [the process] be fixed in a specific time frame. We can start by codifying the executive order. You need some manpower as well."

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