DOD Personnel:

More Consistency Needed in Determining Eligibility for Top Secret Security Clearances

GAO-01-465: Published: Apr 18, 2001. Publicly Released: May 21, 2001.

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Each year, the Department of Defense (DOD) makes about 200,000 decisions to grant, deny, or revoke security clearances for its civilian, military, and contractor personnel. Through a process called adjudication, DOD personnel security specialists review the results of employees' background investigations and determine whether the individual is eligible for a clearance. This report (1) assesses whether DOD's adjudicators consistently document all significant adverse security conditions when determining individuals' eligibility for top secret security clearances and (2) identifies factors that hinder the effectiveness of DOD's adjudicative process. GAO found that DOD adjudicators have not consistently documented all significant adverse security conditions present in investigative case files when determining individuals' eligibility for top secret security clearances. DOD has been unable to demonstrate that it fully considered all significant adverse conditions often not documented, including financial matters. Several factors have hindered the effectiveness of DOD's adjudicative process. The Assistant Secretary has not (1) used common explanatory guidance, such as that contained in the Adjudicative Desk Reference he developed, or issued any other clarifying guidance to promote consistency in applying the federal guidelines; (2) required adjudicators to take DOD adjudicative training or afforded them with continuing education opportunities on applying the federal guidelines; and (3) established common equality assurance mechanisms to identify any problem areas needing clarifying guidance or training. Common quality assurance procedures would facilitate DOD's oversight of the adjudicative process. Actions to provide stronger direction and oversight are needed given the challenges posed by the decentralized nature of DOD's process.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS), which is currently being tested, will require all DOD central adjudication facilities to record more complete and consistent information regarding their adjudicative deliberations. The Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) (ASD(C3I)) has tasked the Defense Personnel Research Center to develop a standard format for recording the information. The ASD(C3I) also acknowledges that additional training, guidance, and oversight are needed to ensure consistent application. The 13 adjudicator guidelines are contained in the Joint Adjudication Management System (JAMS) segment of JPAS. The mitigating factors feature of JAMS was slated for release in 2004. On September 12, 2005, DOD indicated that the recommendation has not been implemented. DOD stated, "Due to concerns expressed by the Military Services, this change was delayed. Subsequent meetings have been held with the Military Services and central adjudication facilities (CAFs) to address their concerns. Additional meetings with the CAFs and the Military Services are being scheduled to determine the way ahead and a timeline for implementation of this request." Our September report (GAO-06-1070) noted that DOD adjudicators are to record information relevant to each of their eligibility-for-clearance determinations in JPAS. They do this by selecting applicable guidelines for adverse conditions and mitigating factors from prelisted responses and may type up to 3,000 characters of additional information.

    Recommendation: To more fully document adjudication decisions, the Secretary of Defense should direct that the Assistant Secretary of Defense(Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) establish detailed documentation requirements to support adjudication decisions, including all significant adverse security conditions and the mitigating factors relevant to each condition.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As tasked by the Office of the ASD(C3I), the Defense Personnel Security Research Center updated the Adjudicative Desk Reference, and will continue to provide updates as new information warrants. The draft revision to DOD Regulation 5200.2-R requires adjudicators to use this reference when determining eligibility for a clearance, however, the regulation is being revised again to reflect the transfer of the Defense Security Service to the Office of Personnel Management. The ASD(C3I) is in the process of establishing a collaborative adjudication support organization to promote consistency across DOD's adjudication organizations. Proposed revisions to the Adjudicative Guidelines have been forwarded to the Personnel Security Working Group of Policy Coordinating Committee for Records Access and Information Security Policy for formal review and coordination within the larger community. On September 12, 2005, DOD indicated that the recommendation has not been implemented. DOD stated, "In June 2005, the National Security Council Policy Coordinating Committee approved and forwarded to the President the revised adjudication guidelines. We are awaiting approval by the President." In August 2006, DOD published new adjudicative guidelines entitled, "Implementation of Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information," which provide adjudicators with guidance on how to determine significant adverse security conditions and factors that might mitigate (alleviate) the conditions when determining eligibility to hold security clearances. Also, in GAO-06-1070, we reported that DOD adjudicators who determine eligibility for industry personnel are additionally using the Adjudicative Desk Reference and DOD's Decision Logic Table to help determine whether or not documentation of a guideline was needed.

    Recommendation: To provide better direction to DOD's adjudication facility officials, promote consistency in applying the federal guidelines, and provide stronger oversight, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) to require that all DOD adjudicators use common explanatory guidance, such as that contained in the Adjudicative Desk Reference.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Office of the ASD(C3I), the Defense Security Service Training Academy, and the central adjudication facility officials have been meeting to establish standards for training and career field requirements for adjudicators. These standards would include initial, advanced, and continuing education. These discussions not only focus on the content of the curriculum, the format of courses, and the possibility of certification, but also on alternative modalities for training delivery. The research and development of common training standards for security practitioners remains ongoing with an expected completion date of December 31, 2004. On September 12, 2005, DOD indicated that the recommendation has not been implemented. DOD stated, "No change. Efforts still ongoing." Six years after the recommendation and concurrence, DOD has still not implemented a common required training curriculum for adjudicators.

    Recommendation: To provide better direction to DOD's adjudication facility officials, promote consistency in applying the federal guidelines, and provide stronger oversight, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) to establish common adjudicator training requirements and work with the Defense Security Service Academy to develop appropriate continuing education opportunities for all DOD adjudicators.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Office of the ASD(C3I), in coordination with the central adjudication facility officials, is considering establishing a Board of Central Adjudication Facilities' Directors. One of the functions of the Board would be to randomly review adjudication decisions to ensure compliance and consistency across facilities. DOD is involved in an unprecedented transformation of the personnel security program, and final decisions on the future construct of the personnel security program were expected by the end of the year (2004). On September 12, 2005, DOD indicated that the recommendation has not been implemented. DOD stated, "Based upon input received from the CAFs [central adjudication facilities], PERSEREC [DOD's Personnel Security Research Center] has refined the form and will conduct a "beta" with the Air Force CAF and DISCO [Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office]. Additionally, discussions are underway with DSS [Defense Security Service] to develop the requirements et al to automate this form and quality review process." GAO-06-1070 reported problems with documentation in 47 of 50 adjudicative reports that GAO examined, indicating continuing quality problems.

    Recommendation: To provide better direction to DOD's adjudication facility officials, promote consistency in applying the federal guidelines, and provide stronger oversight the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) to establish a common quality assurance program to be implemented by officials in all DOD adjudication facilities and monitor compliance through annual reporting.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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