Personnel Clearances:

Questions for the Record Regarding Security Clearance Reform

GAO-08-965R: Published: Jul 14, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2008.

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Brenda S. Farrell
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On May 22, 2008, we testified before the Congressional subcommittee at a hearing on Security Clearance Reform. This letter responds to three questions for the record. (1) Has GAO noted any efforts in the Joint Reform Team report to address the quality of investigative and adjudicative work and if not, can GAO suggest some steps that might be taken? (2) Since the Department of Defense (DOD) was put on GAO's high-risk list, GAO has been recommending DOD develop methods to better forecast long-term funding needs for the clearance process. What are GAO's thoughts on the steps taken by the Defense Security Service (DSS), including its use of a refined web-based survey, to better forecast its workload? (3) What suggestions does GAO have for the Joint Reform Team and Congress as we move forward with plans to reform the security clearance process?

(1) At the request of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, we recently initiated an engagement assessing the Joint Reform Team's plans to reform the security clearance process. In this review, we will assess whether the Joint Reform Team's plan and its ongoing efforts address the key factors discussed at the hearing on May 22, 2008, one of which is building more quality and quality monitoring throughout the clearance process. In a separate engagement initiated under the authority of the Comptroller General, we are evaluating both the quality and timeliness of the Department of Defense's (DOD) personnel security clearances. To evaluate quality in this engagement, we are surveying DOD adjudicators--who review clearance investigation files to determine clearance eligibility--and evaluating clearance adjudication files. When we complete this engagement, we will be available to provide a briefing about our findings to Congress and Congressional staff on request. (2) In our February 2008 report on DOD's personnel security program for industry, we reported that DOD's procedures for projecting its long-term funding needs for industry personnel security clearances are evolving. While conducting the audit work for this report, DOD officials explained to us that the Defense Security Service (DSS) is responsible for conducting an annual survey of contractors performing classified work for the government. In this survey, DSS asks contractors to estimate their future clearance investigation needs for industry personnel. The survey results are used to forecast estimates of the future investigation workload and budget requirements. In its efforts to improve the accuracy of these estimates, DSS has made several recent changes. In 2006, for example, DSS made its annual survey accessible through the Internet. In addition, DSS has begun to use its field staff to actively encourage industry representatives to complete the voluntary survey. According to a DSS official, these two changes increased the response rate of surveyed facilities from historical lows of between 10 and 15 percent in previous years to a 70 percent response rate in 2007, representing 86 percent of industry personnel with a clearance in fiscal year 2007. Improvements in the survey response rate may help DOD to improve its forecasts of long-term funding needs for the industry personnel security program. Improvements to DOD's long-term funding forecasts would help enable it to implement the recommendation we made in our February 2008 report to add additional out-years of projected funding information to its annual report to Congress on the personnel security clearance program for industry. (3) Past experience has shown that Congress has every reason to remain vigilant and continue its oversight of this high-risk area. The Joint Reform Team's initial efforts to develop a new governmentwide security clearance process represent a positive step toward addressing past impediments and managing security reform efforts. However, continued oversight will help ensure that the momentum of these initial reform efforts continues, particularly as the upcoming change in administration takes place. Much remains to be done to improve the security clearance process governmentwide, and GAO stands ready to assist Congress in its continued oversight of this high-risk area.

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