Personnel Security Clearances:

Preliminary Observations on Joint Reform Efforts to Improve the Governmentwide Clearance Eligibility Process

GAO-08-1050T: Published: Jul 30, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2008.

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Brenda S. Farrell
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Over the past decade a number of requirements have been established with regard to the processing of security clearances for federal employees. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004 established statutory clearance requirements for the executive agencies, military departments, and intelligence community. These requirements include, among other things, milestones for the reduction in length of time to complete personnel security investigations and adjudications, reciprocity of security clearance and access determinations, the establishment of an integrated database to track investigative and adjudication information with the authorization of appropriations for its implementation, and continuous evaluation of available technology in investigations and adjudications. The most recent security clearance reform efforts include the Joint Security and Suitability Reform Team's (hereafter referred to as the joint reform team) Security and Suitability Process Reform initial report, which was issued on April 30, 2008 in response to a memorandum from the President, and the President's Executive Order 13467, which was released on June 30, 2008. The joint reform team's initial report contains a reform plan that outlines a new 7-step process for determining clearance eligibility, and the executive order establishes a Performance Accountability Council to implement that plan. The joint reform team's initial plan and the executive order reflect the collaborative efforts of several key agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), DOD, OPM, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The recent security clearance reform efforts, as reflected in the joint reform team's initial plan and Executive Order 13467, consist of several elements, including responsiveness to the President's direction with an initial plan that identifies several primary near-term actions to follow, input from key stakeholders, and support from and accountability of high-level leadership. First, the joint reform team's plan responds to the President's direction for an initial plan and identifies several primary near-term actions. For example, the plan states that the joint reform team will develop an automated records check capability to expedite clearance investigations. Second, the reform efforts contain input from key stakeholders. In our previous work, we have found that stakeholder involvement in strategic planning is particularly important because of complex political environments and the potential for stakeholders to disagree strongly about missions and goals. A third element, consistent with the best practices we have identified for guiding agencies undergoing cultural transformation, is that the reform efforts have the support of high-level governmentwide leadership and hold this leadership accountable to the President to achieve the reform. We have previously reported that committed, sustained leadership and persistent attention by all parties is indispensable for the successful implementation of organizational transformations, such as making lasting changes to the governmentwide security clearance reform effort. The reform plan was developed under the leadership of four senior executives--the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of OPM, the Deputy Director for Management at OMB, and the Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence)--who are described in the plan as reform champions. The executive order identifies specific positions that are accountable, and we believe it is significant that the order established a framework for key accountable leadership before the upcoming change in administrations because the senior leadership currently occupying these positions will change with the transition of presidential administrations after the 2008 elections. Our experience has shown that successful major change management initiatives can often take at least 5 to 7 years to help create the accountability needed to ensure that the transformation initiatives are successfully completed. This length of time and the frequent turnover of political leadership in the federal government have often made it difficult to obtain the sustained attention needed to make changes in government reform efforts.

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