Industry Security Clearances: Broken Process

By Steffes, Peter M. | National Defense, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Industry Security Clearances: Broken Process


Steffes, Peter M., National Defense


In order to perform many critical services for government customers, tens of thousands of defense industry personnel must obtain and renew security clearances every year. Both at home and abroad, these requirements have skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. The security clearance process, rules and regulations are very important, because they create the mechanism by which industry obtains and retains qualified personnel to support the government's critical missions.

An effective and efficient process for clearing personnel is the only way to ensure that qualified personnel are readily available to accomplish the country's national security needs. The current process of providing clearances is inadequate to meet these needs and must be improved.

Industry faces increased pressure to deliver cleared personnel on the day a contract begins. The current process makes it almost impossible for industry to meet these demands.

Delays in obtaining clearances ultimately increase costs both to the government and to the taxpayer, by postponing the ability to use the most qualified personnel on critical programs. These costs run into the hundreds of millions of dollars both for the government and industry:

Delays also stifle innovation and cooperation, since it is virtually impossible to share a good idea or leverage an existing team across agencies without having appropriately cleared personnel. Ultimately, a considerable amount of important work is not getting done.

The current process for industry to obtain an initial clearance, or periodic reinvestigation after five years, requires companies to provide all the required forms to the Defense Department Industrial Security Office, which then forwards the request to the Defense Security Service. DSS in turn passes the request to Office of Personnel and Management to conduct the actual background investigation. In addition to all of industry's requests handled in this manner, all of the department's civilian and military requests are processed through OPM, which also handles clearances for nearly all other federal agencies.

Recent disturbing actions by the DSS and OPM have had an alarming impact on the industrial base, and have severely clouded the future of a viable, efficient clearance process.

The first such action came in April when the DSS--citing funding shortfalls--imposed a moratorium on submitting requests for initial industrial security clearances and periodic reinvestigations. This action greatly compounded existing and already unacceptable delays that industry faces in delivering critical goods and services to the government. Periodic reinvestigations conducted by OPM can take even longer, because they are assigned a lower priority than initial investigations.

Congress recently approved a reprogramming of a significant portion of the department's current funding to restart the acceptance of industry applications starting back in July. However, the 2007 budget request for DSS significantly under funds this program for that year and beyond. It needs revision before delays begin to reoccur.

Industry also has significant concerns about the impact that Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 could have upon the investigative process for security clearances once. In short, HSPD-12 requires that, by October 27, 2007, everybody needing access to a federal information system or a federally controlled facility must have a biometrically encrypted identification card. This directive applies to government, contractor and subcontractor employees alike. …

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