Security Clearance Background Investigations: Blame the People or the Process?
Congress has followed through on their promise to bring increased scrutiny and oversight to the security clearance investigation process. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s leak of classified information about the NSA’s PRISM program (and his subsequent ‘Where’s Waldo’ escapades in the Moscow airport), congressional leaders are asking more questions than ever. The Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act was introduced this week. It requires the government to update its policies and increase the transparency of the clearance process.
In particular spotlight is a contract security clearance company with 65 percent of the background investigation business, and both an ongoing IG investigation and lawsuit.
In the wake of scandals such as the Snowden debacle, everyone looks for someone to blame. Current sequestration budget cuts are also causing another look at the financial benefits of government employees versus contractors. The realization that someone with a security clearance had both access he perhaps shouldn’t have as well as questionable judgment calls the process that cleared him into question.
The heart of the matter and one particular to this forum is – is it the people, or the process, that’s the problem? And by people I’m not referring to the individual integrity of background investigators, but their role, be it independent contractor/consultant, or government employee.
I’m betting on a push toward insourcing, especially given the preferences of ranking committee member Sen. Claire McCaskill. I’m also betting that insourcing won’t solve any problems (and let me add here the disclaimer that ‘these opinions are my own and do not represent an official position of ClearanceJobs.com, it’s leadership, or companies – wow, I almost feel like a government employee again!) Of the 20 investigators who have been convicted of fraud, it’s an even split as far as who’s done the lying (contractor or government employee). Abuse isn’t solely in the hands of private contractors. While unreasonable deadlines and antiquated reporting procedures may incentivize shortcuts by contractors, government employees face the same things. If, perhaps, a reduced likelihood of being fired for failure.
Congress’ proposed SCORE Act would increase audits and oversight over background investigations, but without changes to the process, I doubt we’re likely to see the reforms they’re looking for. As leadership at ClearanceJobs has pointed out in the past, advancements in technology for investigators, as well as updates to the adjudicative criteria would do much more toward preventing the next Snowden.
So, who’s to blame when it comes to failures in security clearance background investigations? About all we can say for sure is that Congress is likely to find somebody.