US Security Clearance Process in the US: Focus on Policy, Not Persons


About The Process

The security clearance process involves the initial clearance (which is the most costly), and includes records and information that does not change. Renewal of clearance does not call for repeating their investigation of discovery regarding permanent information, and is, therefore, less involved and less costly. A thorough and well maintained security clearance must never be political. It is a neutral and unbiased process.

Clearances are inclusive of legal reviews and field work to obtain information from family members, teachers, employers, and neighbors. A great deal of the required fieldwork to obtain full information is where the initial expense, as well as the time and effort of several investigators, is concentrated.

The cost of a first security clearance has been estimated at $25,000.00, though there is no documentation available to review; it may, in real cost, be a much higher figure. Employee time for Inspectors to complete the field work alone indicates that this is likely.

Modernization, New Technology, and Updated US Security Clearance Process

The focus on a September 2013 incident in the Washington Navy Yard where 34-year-old Navy contractor Aaron Alexis opened fire, shot and killed twelve people, and wounded, by gunshot, another eight; brought scrutiny to the security clearance processes used. Alexis had maintained his security clearance although there were serious concerns about his mental health as well as an arrest that bypassed examination by investigators; yet was never considered in his security clearance.

The Aaron Alexis incident, as well as other high profile incidents, triggered scrutiny in the security clearance process; bringing background investigative protocols, means and methods under examination. Indeed, there is a backlog of more than a year. It has kept individuals waiting due to the backlog in the Office of Personnel Management. Some of the Trump Administration personnel have waited to have their security clearance come through for 16 months.

The Pentagon has taken over the security clearance process, to be handled by the Department of Defense from the Office of Personnel Management (OPR). The transition will be completed over the next three years, and is currently in progress. Handling of all new and renewal investigations will be done by the DOD, which will allow OPM to complete their backlog more expeditiously. The updated process, beginning with military and civilian employees as well as contractors, is now under DOD purview. DOD will not pursue the completion of security clearance investigations already in progress at OPM. Expectations are for a 20% backlog reduction within six months.

US Security Clearance Process Entails Streamlined Vetting

A U.S. official has stated it is anticipated the White House is to give additional authority to perform the security reviews for most other governmental agencies in the near future. An update to the 2012 Federal Standards used to vet security clearance requirements will be under new guidelines from the National Intelligence Director. There will be new means to allow crossover workers to move more expeditiously between private and government sectors, eliminating the need for new clearances.

The Officer of the Director of National Intelligence is the executive agent for the program which sets guidelines for security requirements based on Federal investigative guidelines. The Pentagon and OPM will do the vetting, working with DNI.

Due to changes in technology, processes, and sources, the field work will be reduced to allow automated and continuous checks, meaning it can supply the same or similar information currently taking hundreds of days at great expense. As a result, the department is discovering problems years before a five year Top Secret Clearance renewal or a ten year Secret Clearance would have exposed them.

The take over by Pentagon will be instrumental for quicker, less labor-intensive investigations in the new system. In addition, it will also carry with it more current information than the prior process. This is very relevant to the objective of continuing to maintain security clearance once an employee has separated from U.S. service.

Policy Vs. Persons

Like John Brennan, a consensus among those involved or previously involved with having security clearance after separation demonstrates a strong opposition to having their clearances suspended. The change of venue of the process and significant changes to the means and methods currently in place now supports the shift in focus from decisions to suspend or discontinue security clearance when one separates from their services related to their clearance.

Though decisions to revoke may be made due to non-compliance to governing rules of conduct by any individual, the normal separation process will no longer demand that security clearance be continued where an ex-employee can have access to secure information. Instead, it can convert into a state of a suspended clearance which can now be reinstated promptly, allowing for any renewal of information to take place in a way that will not hinder the recall of personnel should a need arise.

Old means and methods are not doing the job in a way that addresses the needs of the nation. New methods and means not only address these needs, but it also serves to expedite the renewal process significantly. It is this ability that will allow personnel to separate from service without the need to afford access to a system that was meant to be and remain secure.

Further, the Pentagon’s purview over suspending all security clearances will attain at least three obvious goals. The first to enable them to stop the cost of keeping security clearances in place while allowing quick reinstatement if called for. The second goal and one not appreciated by those who profit by having a post-service security clearance is the demonetization of having it. Nothing remotely connected to security clearance should be monetized, and the new methodology will eliminate it. Lastly, and with our knowledge of leaks of secured information, this system will curtail leaks with a focus on total elimination of the leaking of secured information.

Lin Cava / Writer
I am a seasoned writer. I use creative writing poetry and art as a means of self-expression. As I observe the state of the world and particularly the state of the USA, I turn my effort and attention to reveal the issues we must, as a nation, redeem.  My article was originally publilshed on NRN.