THE MAGAZINE

Who Really Needs A Security Clearance?

By Megan Gates

ODNI and OPM are working to improve the designation process for when security clearances need to be issued and how they are issued through the Proposed Rule for the Designation of National Security Positions in the Competitive Service and Related Matters. The two offices posted the proposed rule in May 2013 for public comment and are in the process of reviewing those comments to address concerns.

One significant concern of the GAO is the lack of a periodic review process for security clearances. The GAO has recommended periodic reviews and assessment of whether issued security clearances are necessary because even though government agencies are required to keep security clearances to a minimum, there is no requirement for “reviews and validations of the security clearance needs of existing positions.” However, the proposed rule created by ODNI and OPM would require only a one-time reassessment 24 months after a clearance is issued. By not changing the requirement, Farrell explained, this could result in a number of personnel holding security clearances that don’t meet current national security needs.
 
Montana Senator Jon Tester, the chairman of the subcommittee, echoed Farrell’s sentiments, saying that the “federal government is failing to properly vet the individuals who are granted access to our nation’s most sensitive information and secure facilities” and “that there’s no quick-fix to such a broken system.”

After the hearing, Tester introduced a bill calling for review of security clearances. (See “Legal Report” on page 76 for more details.)

David Borer, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, testified that that the government is overusing the designation of sensitive for positions and that will not change with the new proposed rule. “Under the proposed regulations, virtually anybody in the entire…Department of Defense could be designated as holding a sensitive position, which we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of employees,” he said.

Witnesses Brian Prioletti, assistant director of the ODNI, and Tim Curry, deputy associate director for partnership and labor relations of OPM, said that the new proposed rule would help agencies determine proper designations for personnel. The new rule would also give OPM oversight. The agency would be responsible for making sure that it is implemented properly, Curry said.

However, when questioned about how OPM would ensure that agencies were applying the proposed rule, Curry was unable to provide specific metrics or processes that would show oversight. Instead, he said that once the proposed rule goes into effect, OPM and ODNI will develop implementing guidance, training, and reporting methods for agencies to make sure there is “uniformity and consistency” across the government.
 

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