Government Operations:

Faster Processing of DOD Personnel Security Clearances Could Avoid Millions in Losses

GGD-81-105: Published: Sep 15, 1981. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 1981.

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As part of a continuing review, GAO reported on the delays in the processing of security clearances for the Department of Defense (DOD) and contractor personnel. In accordance with Executive Order 12065, national security information is classified at three levels--top secret, secret, and confidential. To obtain a clearance, several types of investigations are necessary. These include a background investigation and a national agency check which includes an examination of criminal and security files at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other Federal agencies.

Requests for security clearances increased approximately 18 percent between 1978 and 1980, and estimates for 1981 and subsequent years show a continuing increase. Although DOD standards for processing requests for background investigations and national agency checks are 90 and 30 days, respectively, as of May 1981, industry requests for clearances were taking an average of 220 and 103 days, respectively. GAO estimated that the delays in processing DOD requests could cost about $580 million in 1982. Furthermore, in July 1981, the Secretary of Defense was notified that clearance delays resulted in costly slippage in initiation or schedules of classified contracts and some degradation of operational readiness. The urgency of some of the programs and the extensive delays in obtaining clearances have forced DOD to issue an increasing number of interim clearances. These clearances are followed at a later date by background investigations and national agency checks. Some interim clearances have been revoked because the subsequent investigations disclosed derogatory information. GAO believes that the increase in the use of interim clearances increases the risks to national security. The size of the Defense Investigative Service, which performs investigations required for top secret and secret clearances, has not kept pace with the increase in clearance requests. GAO believes that additional investigators and support staff are needed to reduce the time involved in obtaining a clearance.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should reprogram the 1982 budget to provide the authority to the Defense Investigative Service to hire the additional personnel needed to expedite the investigation and processing of personnel security clearances.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should request, and the Director, Office of Management and Budget, should approve authority for the FBI to increase the number of personnel in the Identification Division.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should expedite the implementation of the proposed automation program in the Identification Division.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

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