Following up on a previous subcommittee hearing on security clearance reform, this hearing focused on the designation of federal positions as “national security sensitive,” as well as the requirements for personnel to have access to classified information. The hearing sought to examine the impact these policies have on background investigations and the adjudication of security clearances, as well as implications for federal employee rights and subsequent costs to the taxpayer.
In lieu of clear or updated guidance, federal agencies inconsistently interpret and apply how they designate positions that require a security clearance. Currently, such guidance is provided through a myriad of executive orders, federal regulations, and the OPM Position Designation Tool. Though this Tool helps agencies determine the “sensitivity and risk levels” of government positions, it was not created to address security issues, and concerns have been raised about the Tool’s inconsistency and implementation by agencies.
Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are close to finalizing a rule that could greatly expand the number of positions across the federal government deemed “sensitive” to national security, meaning those with a potentially adverse effect on national security but that do not require a security clearance. Given the resulting number of background investigations, real potential exists for these events to negatively impact both the thoroughness and timeliness of background investigations. Compounding the issue, on August 20, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision in Kaplan v. Conyers, a case involving two federal employees who lost their jobs and rights to appeal when their employing agencies stripped them of their ability to hold “sensitive” positions. The decision brought to light a number of concerns about the OPM-ODNI rule’s negative implications for civil liberties, transparency and whistleblower rights.
Assistant Director, Special Security Directorate
National Counterintelligence Executive, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Deputy Associate Director for Partnership and Labor Relations
Office of Personnel Management
Director, Defense Capabilities and Management
U.S. Government Accountability Office