DOD Personnel Clearances:

Questions and Answers for the Record Following the Second in a Series of Hearings on Fixing the Security Clearance Process

GAO-06-693R: Published: Jun 14, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 14, 2006.

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On November 9, 2005, GAO testified before Congress at a hearing on "Access Delayed: Fixing the Security Clearance Process, Part II." This letter responds to three questions for the record posed by Congress.

We will continue to assess and monitor the Department of Defense's (DOD) personnel security clearance program, including DOD's progress in meeting the goals and objectives outlined in the governmentwide plan. At this time, we have no ongoing or future work that would assess whether the federal intelligence community is meeting the goals and objectives of the government's plan. We are currently reviewing the timeliness and completeness of DOD's and the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) processes used to determine whether industry personnel are eligible to hold a top secret clearance. We will report that information to Congress this fall. Also, our standard steps of monitoring programs on our high-risk list require that we evaluate the progress that agencies make toward being removed from GAO's high-risk list. Finally, we continuously monitor our recommendations to agencies to determine whether active steps are being taken to overcome program deficiencies. We have been encouraged by the commitment that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and OPM have demonstrated in the development of a governmentwide plan to address clearance-related problems. Also, the OMB Deputy Director met with GAO officials to discuss OMB's general strategy for addressing the problems that led to our high-risk designation for DOD's clearance program. We are concerned about whether such progress will continue since Executive Order No. 13381 has not been extended and no other office has begun to assume that leadership role for the period after the order expires on July 1, 2006. While OPM has provided some leadership in assisting OMB with the development of the governmentwide plan, OPM may not be in a position to assume OMB's leadership role for a variety of reasons. OMB and OPM could enhance the transparency and likelihood that the initiatives would be continued by improving communications with clearance-process stakeholders and correcting deficiencies in the governmentwide plan. Communication problems may be limiting governmentwide efforts to improve the personnel security clearance process. Similarly, the transparency of the initiatives may be limited if the governmentwide plan is not communicated and available to all stakeholders, including investigators, adjudicators, agency and company officials needing personnel with clearances, and those seeking clearances. Also, another step in increasing the probability that the initiatives will continue into the future would be to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the initiatives by correcting previously identified deficiencies. Perseverance by the administration in implementing our recommended solutions and continued oversight and action by Congress are essential elements to removing DOD's program from our high-risk list and improving clearance processes governmentwide. The plan represents an important step toward addressing some long-standing concerns GAO has raised about DOD's personnel security clearance process, but much remains to be done to develop a more comprehensive plan for improving the timeliness and quality of the security clearance process. The plan did not contain details on some elements that should be in a comprehensive strategic plan. Also, while the plan establishes a wide variety of metrics to address timeliness for the investigations phase of the process, it does little to address timeliness in the adjudication phase of the process. Third, although the plan acknowledges that agencies have concerns about the quality of investigations and adjudications, the government plan devotes little attention to monitoring and improving the quality of the personnel security clearance process. Developing specific steps to address the general concerns that I identified in my testimony should move OMB and the executive branch agencies closer to their goal of improving the personnel security clearance process.

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