Security Clearance Process

Five Reforms Needed in the Security Clearance Investigation Process

In a continuing series of reports on the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) lack of oversight concerning investigative service contractors, the latest reports paint a bleak picture for OPM’s ability to oversee the quality of work provided by the contractor investigation companies that complete the majority of background investigations for OPM.  The report disclosed that federal and internal auditors found a preponderance of evidence that indicated completed investigations were not reviewed before being submitted to OPM.  In some instances an impossibly high number of cases were reviewed by the same person in a short period of time, an indicator that they were rubber stamped instead of actually being reviewed for completeness and accuracy.

OPM, in its defense, stated it had already implemented changes to address the deficiencies found by the auditors and include: not allowing contractors to review their own investigations; implementing automated case tracking tools to ensure investigative standards are met; and more stringent reviewer training and accountability.  OPM, the main provider for the federal government’s background investigation services, was put under the microscope last year by auditors, politicians, news media, and even the Justice Department when concerns about the background investigation process emerged after the Washington Navy Yard shooting and NSA security leaks, where there were classic indicators that were reported, but resulted in no action regarding the security clearance status of the individuals involved.

Lost in all of this hullaballoo is the fact that the actual investigation itself still needs reforms, as does the continuous evaluation process.  Some of the issues in the current process that need improvement are:

  • Too much reliance is given on the information provided by the subject of the background investigation. Not much will be found out about a person for a Secret level investigation because no interviews are done with the sources listed. They are mailed a form letter that may or may not get sent back in with minimal useful information from a source that the subject provided.
  • All investigations should include a subject interview regardless of clearance or level
  • Information regarding misconduct and employment terminations, or resignation in lieu of terminations should be required to be disclosed regardless of any court orders or legal agreements made.
  • Information found on social media sites and other online information should be evaluated for potential issues such as alcohol or drug abuse, criminal conduct, or other relevant issues in accordance with the 13 adjudicative guidelines.
  • Continuous evaluation should be just that- continuous. The failure to report required information should be an accountable action that has real consequences for employees and supervisors.

Comment Archive

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    Also being misreported by the media is the issue with final quality reviews. The contractors still review the work done by their own investigators before the reports are turned over to OPM. The issue was that USIS employees were doing final reviews in conjunction with OPM reviewers in that final stage. So there’s still a lot of room for the contractor reviewers to do shoddy work at the behest of their companies which need to make monthly revenue targets. This is exemplified by the USIS reviewer who churned out some 15,000 cases in a month which we all know is totally impossible.