Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Carper Highlight Progress and Remaining Challenges in Federal Government’s Security Clearance Review Process

WASHINGTON – Today, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) highlighted the one-year anniversary of the public release of the interagency report of the Suitability and Security Clearance Performance Accountability Council (PAC), which offered recommendations to improve the federal government’s process for determining security clearances. The report, requested by President Obama, came in response to the September 16, 2013 tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard. The PAC is chaired by the Deputy Director for Management and Budget at the Office of Management and Budget and also includes membership of agencies with key roles in the security clearance process, including the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

“The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has been on the forefront of reviewing how the government performs suitability determinations and security clearance decisions,” said Chairman Johnson. “We will continue to support policy changes and decisions that will increase protection for the American people and our classified information.”

“Our committee has been on the forefront of reforming the federal security clearance process,” he continued. “In a 2014 hearing, we examined the massive growth in the number of security clearances held in government and the contracting community. The Office of Personnel Management has subsequently reduced the total number of security clearances held by more than 600,000 over the past year. I commend this first step in fixing the security clearance process.”

“In the wake of the horrific shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, the federal government took a serious look at our flawed security clearance review process and analyzed what worked, what failed, and what we could do to help prevent another tragedy like the one at the Navy Yard from happening again,” said Ranking Member Carper. “Today, a year after that report’s release, it’s clear that the strong interagency coordination, led by the Office of Management and Budget, has resulted in important progress. This includes a reduction in the overall number of security clearance holders, progress in finding ways to continuously monitor security clearance holders, and the development of new quality standards for those who perform background investigations and decide who should hold a clearance. While this progress is critically important, more work remains if we truly want to fix the problem. For example, federal agencies must work with their local partners to improve access to state and local criminal records. Congress also has a responsibility to work with the agencies on recommendations that may require additional legislative authority to be fully effective. Our Committee will continue its oversight and work with the Administration and stakeholders to address these vulnerabilities. While we may never fully understand what led to the tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard, we owe it to the entire country to strengthen our security clearance review process and our ability to prevent individuals with ill intent from gaining access to our most sensitive facilities and secret information.”

In response to the tragic incident at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held two hearings to review government clearances and background checks and security practices and procedures at federal facilities. These two hearings underscored the urgency and importance to improve the federal security clearance review process as well as physical security at federal buildings. In addition to conducting robust oversight, the committee reported out bipartisan legislation to address vulnerabilities in the security clearance process:

S. 1276 – Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement Act. This bill, enacted into law as H.R. 2860, authorizes the use of funding from the revolving fund to pay for audits and investigations by the Inspector General of OPM of the fund and activities financed by the fund, which include the conduct of background investigations by OPM of federal employees.

S. 2061 – Preventing Conflicts of Interest with Contractors Act. This bill, which passed in the Senate, would ensure that contractors who perform background investigations do not also perform the final quality review of their own work.

S. 1744 – Security Clearance Accountability, Reform and Enhancement Act. Under this bill, passed in the Senate, an individual is ineligible for employment conducting such investigations if he or she engages in conduct undermining the integrity of background investigations. Moreover, the President must issue updated guidance on designating sensitive government positions.

S. 1618 – Enhanced Security Clearance Act of 2014. This bill, reported out of committee, would require that federal personnel with security clearances or occupying sensitive positions must undergo randomly timed automated checks of their background information.