Nuclear Regulation:

NRC's Security Clearance Program Can Be Strengthened

RCED-89-41: Published: Dec 20, 1988. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) personnel security program and the procedures NRC uses to ensure that those who operate nuclear power plants do not threaten national security.

GAO found that: (1) NRC routinely waived about 99 percent of its background investigation requirements for new hires, since the clearance process took too long to conduct and adversely affected hiring and recruiting; (2) this practice resulted in less than fully productive use of employees, and potential security risks; (3) NRC terminated about 10 percent of individuals hired with waivers since 1983 after background investigations revealed drug-related, financial, or other serious personal problems; (4) NRC required reinvestigations only for employees who held the highest-level clearance and only reinvestigated the remaining employees if it became aware of adverse information or upgraded an employee's clearance; (5) NRC did not have effective internal controls to manage the security program because its computerized system did not contain correct information; and (6) NRC was still considering whether to establish either a policy statement or access authorization regulations for commercial power plant employees.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On April 28, 1989, NRC implemented a reinvestigation program for L clearance holders. Further, NRC has corrected and plans to continually update the security clearance database and has decided to proceed with regulations rather than a policy statement regarding access to commercial nuclear power plants.

    Recommendation: To eliminate potential security risks and ensure a reliable and efficient security clearance program, the Chairman, NRC, should: (1) require periodic reinvestigations of employees holding L clearances; (2) validate and update the security clearance database; and (3) expedite a decision to issue either a policy statement or a regulation regarding unescorted access to commercial nuclear power plants.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission


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