Questions for the Record Related to DOD's Personnel Security Clearance Program and the Government Plan for Improving the Clearance Process

GAO-06-323R: Published: Jan 17, 2006. Publicly Released: Jan 17, 2006.

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Derek B. Stewart
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On November 9, 2005, GAO testified before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs at a hearing on "Access Delayed: Fixing the Security Clearance Process, Part II." This letter responds to three questions for the record that Senator Daniel K. Akaka posed.

Although we have evidence that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has not taken steps to correct the cited internal control weakness that we identified nearly a decade ago, conclusions about the sufficiency of OPM's specific quality control procedures must wait until we complete other work requested by this subcommittee and others. When OPM was privatizing its investigative function in 1996, we identified an internal control concern--OPM's investigations contractor was conducting personnel security clearance investigations on its own employees. The February 2005 transfer of the Department of Defense's (DOD) federal investigators to OPM resulted in OPM again having federal investigators available to correct this internal control weakness, but OPM has not yet used the federal investigators for that purpose. OPM officials have, however, indicated that they plan to have the federal investigators perform the personnel security clearance investigations of contract investigators starting in March 2006. If OPM follows through with this plan, it would correct the cited internal control weakness. In our February 2004 report, we noted that OPM's issuance of closed pending cases--investigations sent to adjudication facilities without one or more types of source data--causes ambiguity in defining and accurately estimating the backlog. In our October 1999 report examining the completeness of clearance investigations supplied by DOD's Defense Security Service, we noted that risks to national security are posed when investigations do not fully comply with federal standards. To lessen the risk associated with incomplete investigative reports, we recommended DOD adjudication facility officials grant clearances only when all essential investigative work has been done. Adjudication facility officials said that they were reluctant to return incomplete investigations for further investigation because they were concerned about additional delays. In fiscal year 2002 (the last year for which we have data), about 10 percent of the 283,480 DOD cases fully closed by OPM were initially delivered to DOD adjudication facilities as closed pending cases. When measuring the timeliness of its contractors' performance, OPM defined completed investigations as cases that (1) have the complete information required for the type of investigation, (2) are closed pending, or (3) have been discontinued. If the investigations have not been fully completed, we believe that closed pending cases should be included in the investigative portion of the backlog. In order for DOD's personnel security clearance program to be removed from our high-risk list, the program must address (1) the general criteria outlined in our fiscal year 2001 report and (2) the many recommendations that we have provided specific to DOD's program. In our 2001 report, we identified the following general criteria that are considered in designating and removing programs from our high-risk list: (1) a demonstrated strong commitment and top leadership support to address the risk(s); (2) the capacity (that is, the people and other resources) to resolve the risk(s); (3) a corrective action plan that defines the root causes, identifies effective solutions, and provides for substantially completing corrective measures in the near term, including but not limited to steps necessary to implement solutions we have recommended; (4) a program instituted to monitor and independently validate the effectiveness and sustainability of corrective measures; and (5) the ability to demonstrate progress in having implemented corrective measures. Before removing the security clearance process from our high-risk list, we must determine whether DOD has satisfied all of the criteria we have established for removing a high-risk designation.

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