OPM must further strengthen security clearance process: GAO

Despite efforts at improvement, the Office of Personnel Management is not meeting its goals for timely processing of top-secret security clearances for defense contractors, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

In a review of 2,259 cases for industry personnel granted top secret clearance eligibility in January and February 2006, the average case took 446 days for an initial clearance and 545 days for a clearance update, the GAO said.

Substantial delays are being experienced at several points in the application process. For example, the application-submission phase is supposed to take an average of 14 days by Dec. 17, 2006, but currently it is taking an average of 111 days, the report said.

Further, the initial investigations phase is currently taking an average of 286 days to complete, while the goal is 180 days, the GAO said.

Factors contributing to the slow process include an inexperienced investigative workforce and problems accessing federal, state and local records.

In addition, adjudications of industry personnel top secret cases now take an average of 39 days, which is in excess of a federal goal of 30 days.

"Regardless of when in the process the delays occur, the outcome is the same ? the government may incur additional costs from new industry employees being unable to begin work promptly and increased risks to national security because previously cleared industry employees' backgrounds are not complete promptly to see if they still should be eligible to hold a clearance," the GAO report stated.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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