(U.S. SENATE) – Amid the partisanship of this month’s government shutdown, the U.S. Senate came together to start reforming how the government conducts background check investigations for individuals seeking security clearances.
The Senate this month unanimously approved a key provision of the Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act. The bill, introduced by Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), increases oversight over how the government conducts security clearance background checks and holds government employees and contractors more accountable for falsifying investigations.
The Senate approved a provision to allow the Inspector General of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to use resources from its $2 billion Revolving Fund to more thoroughly investigate cases where the integrity of background check process may have been compromised. The Senators’ recent subcommittee hearing revealed that current law blocks OPM from using the funds to investigate the background check process.
As a result, there has never been a full audit or proper oversight over how OPM conducts background investigations of individuals inside and outside the government who seek access to the nation’s most sensitive data.
“In the wake of Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis, the need for reform is clearer than ever,” Tester said. “This provision will bring much need oversight and transparency to the Revolving Fund. It’s bipartisan, it’s cost-neutral, and whether you’re looking at this from a national security or a fiscal perspective, it makes a lot of sense. The House of Representatives should pass it right away.”
“The recent cases of Edward Snowden and the tragic events that transpired at the Navy Yard underscore the importance of improving oversight of the security clearance process,” said Portman. “Senate passage of the bill is a step in the right direction toward fixing the faults in our system, and I urge swift passage in the House of Representatives.”
“The ability to conduct a basic audit is a good first step toward reforming the security clearance process, and making sure that we can trust those with access to our country’s secrets and secure facilities,” said McCaskill, a former State Auditor and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight. “We now need the U.S. House to take up this commonsense measure, and I'm confident that it can find bipartisan support in the House, as it did in the Senate.”
“The OPM OIG is unable to access the funds necessary to audit how OPM administers background investigations,” Johnson said. “Recent events have increased concerns over the thoroughness of background investigations that provide physical access to secure facilities and security clearances both to government workers and contractors. This common-sense legislation enables the OIG to review the OPM program. In addition, we still must standardize the security clearance process. Without government-wide metrics to request and award a security clearance, the American public cannot be confident that the process is managed effectively.”
Tester and Portman, who recently authored a column about the need to improve the security clearance process, are leading the charge for reform as the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce. McCaskill and Johnson head the committee’s panel that oversees federal contractors.
The Senators originally introduced the SCORE Act after Snowden, a former government contractor, publicly revealed classified information in June. The bill’s provisions stem from a hearing the Senators held later that month that revealed that a lack of oversight and accountability is wasting taxpayer dollars and jeopardizing the security of classified information.
The Senators plan to continue moving forward with the SCORE Act’s other provisions, which empower OPM to terminate or debar investigators and others found to have falsified background investigations and force the government to update its policies determining which positions require a security clearance.
The House of Representatives may vote on the SCORE Act this month.