President pushes for security clearance reform

White House officials have issued a memo that directs agencies responsible for security clearances to have a plan that would speed the clearance process on the president's desk by April 30.

The memo, signed by President Bush Feb. 5, asks various agencies that are re-evaluating security clearance procedures to deliver a comprehensive reform proposal in three months. The memo identifies changes that the Bush administration is seeking to achieve through new executive and legislative actions, if necessary.

Those changes include employing updated and consistent standards and methods for security clearances and avoiding duplicative steps. The memo calls for using information technology for more efficient and effective clearance processing, and for updating government information record systems, laws and regulations to ensure that information maintained by executive departments and agencies and required for investigation and adjudication can be protected and shared governmentwide.

The memo assigns responsibility for the developing the clearance reform proposal to the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, and the offices of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense.

Nothing in the document alters Bush's previous executive orders related to security clearances. However, the memo's language reflects the administration's concerns that longstanding practices are causing undue delays in processing security clearances, and preventing employees and contractors from beginning work or moving from one work assignment to another.

Testifying before a congressional panel in May, auditors from the Government Accountability Office said they found that OPM takes an average of 286 days to complete initial investigations for top-secret clearances. That misses by more than 100 days the 180-day target in the reform plan that OMB developed for improving the clearance process.

Florence Olsen writes for Federal Computer Week, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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