OMB proposes security clearance system reform

The Office of Management and Budget yesterday submitted to President Bush a proposal to expedite hiring and security clearances for individuals and contractors to work for the government.

The proposal is more a broad outline for security clearance reform than a detailed plan. Specific reforms will be addressed in further reports this year, said Clay Johnson, OMB deputy director of management.

"This report lays out the general approach we want to take to reform the system," Johnson said in a news conference today. "We have been making security clearance determinations the same way for 50 years, and it's time to change the way we do that."

"This was the first of several reports that will be made to the president over the course of this year about the reforms that we think are important to make," he said. "It will be the end of the year or the latter part of this year before we have identified all of the specific reforms to be made and an implementation plan for all those reforms."

Key elements in the proposed reforms include:
  • Collecting and validating more relevant information at the beginning of the clearance process, to be done electronically when possible.
  • Using automation to make the process faster, reduce manual work and incorporate additional data sources.
  • Focusing field investigative work to collect and validate targeted information.
  • Making decisions using modern analytic methods rather than practices that avoid risk.
  • Reducing duplication of requests and ensuring consistent quality and standards.
  • Replacing periodic re-investigations with continuous-evaluation techniques and using more frequent automated database checks that identify security issues among already cleared employees to resolve issues as they arise.

The report also defines an executive branch governance structure intended to drive the reform process this year and make sure it's well under way before the next administration takes office in January. The governance structure will be formalized by June 30.

"The next administration that comes in is going to be very focused and very busy standing up their administration," Johnson said. "We are best-equipped to get these reform efforts launched while we're here so that the focus is on the implementation of those reforms going forward, and no progress, impetus or pace will be lost with the change in administrations."

Near-term goals include developing a next-generation, Web-based tool designed to collect more relevant applicant information early in the clearance process. According to the report, a project plan will be finalized this year as requirements are identified.

Bush requested a proposal last February to modernize and streamline security clearance processes governmentwide. A joint reform team comprising OMB, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Defense Department, Office of Personnel Management and Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs collaborated on the plan issued yesterday.

Richard W. Walker writes for Federal Computer Week, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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