An 0p-ed in the Washington Post by former deputy secretary of defense and chairman of the Defense Policy Board John Hamre calls the current security clearance process pathetic.
Hamre relayed the process he had to go through for his recent top secret security clearance renewal. For unclear reasons he had to re-submit his electronic SF-86. While this itself was an annoyance, it seemed to be the security clearance interview that sent Hamre over the edge in his frustration with the process.
A security clearance investigator requested a two-hour interview which included a line-by-line Q and A concerning the responses in Hamre’s SF-86. As a system for rooting out spies, Hamre deemed the point-by-point confirmation of his previously submitted document to be systemic of a flawed system:
I once served on the board of a major company that collected computer records and provided knowledge services (for example, credit reports) and customer verification services to the insurance industry. The company could detect fraud in more than 99 percent of cases by asking a potential claimant five questions along the lines of: “Did you live at 123 Maple Ave., 345 Apple Ave. or 456 Oak Ave.?” “At 123 Maple Ave., did your house have two bathrooms, two and a half, or four?” “Did the house at 345 Apple Ave. have one fireplace, two or none?”
It needed only five such questions. Why, then, does OPM have workers reading applicants the forms that the applicants themselves have filled out, then asking whether this is the truth?
Hamre isn’t the only one calling for security clearance reforms. In congressional testimony last year Gene Dodoro with the Government Accountability Office specifically called out the security clearance investigations as an area for cost reform, including downgrading clearance designations or reducing the number of cleared personnel. The cost of a top secret security clearance investigation is significantly more expensive than that of a secret clearance.
And just last month several defense contractors called for more standardization and the use of technology to improve the clearance process.
Clearance reform – it’s definitely not a new topic for the audience here. In the face of budget cuts there’s no question it may be flagged as an area of cost savings. Unfortunately, with sequestration acting as more of a blunt instrument than a fine point, it seems unlikely that clearance reform will achieve the full lifecycle technology advancements the critics seem to be arguing for.
What do you think? Do you agree with the criticism? If so, how would you really improve the system?