Background InvestigationsCareer AdviceObtaining Security Clearance

New GAO Report on Security Clearance Processing

In a report dated December 19, 2008 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provided a preliminary assessment of the timeliness and quality of the Department of Defense‘s (DoD) personnel security clearance program. GAO found that in fiscal year 2008 the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) completed 80% of all initial clearance investigations in 87 days. Although this represents a significant improvement over prior years; the existing clearance process may not be able to meet the December 2009 requirement of 90% in 60 days as mandated by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

Using a sample of 100 favorably adjudicated investigations, GAO found that an estimated 87% of the OPM investigations in July 2008 for Top Secret clearances were missing at least one investigative element required by federal standards. The numbers of elements missing from the 100 investigations were:

Employment 33 Residence 17 Spouse Records 8
Social References 32 Education 16 Financial 3
Forms 31 Subject Interview 12 Former Spouse 2
National Records 18 Local Records 9

The report acknowledged the current clearance reform project that is scheduled to be implemented over the next 20 months, including two new tools for assessing investigative and adjudicative quality.

GAO’s representation of missing investigative elements is somewhat misleading. For instance in the report’s footnotes GAO explained that the 12 investigations missing a Subject Interviews were due to the Subject’s [military] deployment. OPM routinely closes such cases and forward them to the requestor without conducting the Subject Interview. It is then the responsibility of the requestor to have the investigation reopened when the Subject returns from deployment. How many employment and social references were not interviewed because they too were deployed with the same military unit as the Subject? How many of the missing forms were financial or medical releases that have absolutely no adjudicative value?

When one or more elements of an investigation are missing, it doesn’t always mean that the investigation is deficient. Likewise, granting a security clearances based on such investigations due to military exigencies is often justifiable and permitted by DoD regulation. GAO’s report claims to assess quality, but it admits that it made no judgments about the adequacy of the investigative reports to support [adjudicative] decisions. Were they just counting beans?

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    These numbers are no big revelation to investigators. I am sure a larger sampling would show alot of the same. Many cases are nearly impossible to get everything needed for many reasons.

    90% in 60 days is unlikely to happen unless they put more money in to this process, which can close gaps in coverage areas. Many of us drive long distances. For example, today I drove over 400 miles for 1 subject interview in an extremely rural area.

  2. Avatar

    I was employed with a US based company in Iraq from February 2008 through the end of July 2008 and our client was a branch of the U.S. State Department.

    Upon being hired, my Secret clearance was reactivated by my employer and prior to my departure from my employer, I was put in for my TS/SCI upgrade. My Secret clearance was investigated completely and my interview was in the process of being scheduled when I had a family issue to address back in the U.S.

    I had only been with the company five months and did not have enough time employed to receive a leave of absence over 30 days and the issue took longer than that time period to address – therefore the employer could not hold my position for me and subsquently I departed from the company with an At Will Release and a Letter of Reference from our Program Manager.

    Is it still feasible for me to gain the TS/SCI interview which was the only item lacking for me to pass for my TS/SCI clearance. If so, how do I go about it at this time.

  3. Avatar

    An investigators attempt to contact neighbors, co-workers, or professional associates current or past may delay 90 day security ninvestigations.
    My empathy is for an investigator in the amny attempts in neighbors not wanting to speak with them for fear of any outstanding legal issues individuals themseleves may have not realizing the investigation is a part of the process of an individual’s consideration of employment in the Federal Government.

  4. Avatar

    With the recent approval of the 3-tier investigative standards all of this will soon be overtaken by events. GAO will have nothing left to count to “assess” quality, except the Subject Interview, employment checks, and forms. After the JSSRT has implemented the new standards and most of the new processes in 2009, they will probably ask congress for an amendment to the IRTPA to give their new system a chance to meet the “90% in 60 days” requirement.

  5. Avatar

    Would it be possible to explain in more detail what the new 3-tier investigative standards involve for applicants and when this new system will start to be used for contractors and govies? Thank you for any clarification you can provide.

  6. Avatar

    My wife has never been in the Govt/Military etc. I have been so my clearance was initiated by them.
    How would i initiate, pay for the clearance on our own? I work at Scott AFB, IL, lots of jobs but most contractors dont want to touch anyone without a prior clearance!

    thank you,


  7. Avatar

    No one can initiate and pay for a clearance on their own. Only a government agency or a government contractor can request one.

  8. Avatar


    Convince them of your value. If they ask for a clearance, apply anyway. Things are moving along much faster these days and the contractors know this. My wife had no clearance and I convinced her to apply for a contractor job. No clearance, but WOWed them in the interview. She was cleared in about 75 days and has the best job she has ever had. Good luck.

  9. Avatar

    I was recently awarded my full/final TS w/ SSBI (I previously had just a final secret). My question is regwarding “upgrading” to SCI-level priviledges. I understand that they are granted on a very-specific basis for a particular comparntment, etc.

    My question is:
    Once you have a Full TS w/ SSBI, do you undergo any ADDITIONAL “background/screening” in order to receive the SCI access?

    Or … instead, is obtaining the SCI “merely an administrative thing”, so to speak? … i.e .being read-in, signing NDAs, etc.?

    My reason for asking is because several years ago (when I was first being hired by my company), I was told that “you should have no problem eventually getting a Top Secret clearance, but you’ll likely run into a lot of difficulty in terms of getting SCI access” (the reason i was told is b/c of dual citizenship). That leads me to think that there IS additional screening required for SCI (on top of the TS). Otherwise, wouldn’t the dual-citizenship be a showstopper for even obtaining just the TS?

    Appreciate your thoughts/clarification/insights.

  10. Avatar

    The 3 sensitivity levels for SCI are based on an 1) SSBI w/o polygraph, 2) SSBI with CI scope polygraph, and 3) SSBI with expanded scope polygraph (also known as full-scope or lifestyle). There are minor differences in the adjudicative standards for SCI compared to non-SCI clearance. These differences have to do with foreign influence, foreign preference, and outside activities criterion in the Adjudicative Guidelines. If you have recently been granted a TS clearance, you will have to be nominated for SCI and the SCI granting authority may require you to fill out a new SF86. The new SF86 and the prior SSBI will be adjudicated for SCI eligibility and a polygraph exam may be required.