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May 30, 2014

Floor Statement - Rule for Intelligence Authorization Act

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the below statement on the floor of the House on the rule for H.R. 4681, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015:


I rise in opposition of this rule to allow for consideration of H.R. 4681, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015. I am troubled that just 11 amendments were allowed under the rule and many solid amendments that would enhance oversight and transparency were blocked, particularly an amendment by Representative Gabbard to expand the authority and oversight of the Intelligence Community by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

With respect to the underlying bill, I would like to discuss a number of provisions that deserve to be highlighted. The bill sets the stage for potentially significant reforms to government and contract employees' ability to access classified information that warrant thoughtful consideration by the House and further clarification.

Specifically, H.R. 4681 directs the Director of National Intelligence to ensure that elements of the Intelligence Community engage in continuous evaluation of its employees to detect behaviors that may result in unauthorized disclosures. The bill also directs a cost-benefit analysis of replacing the standard periodic reinvestigation process with automated continuous evaluation programs. While I agree that there are weaknesses in the current security clearance process that warrant reform, it is important that before wholesale changes are made, Congress expresses its expectations about the scope of such programs, establishes metrics for evaluating their efficacy, and ensures that due process protections for impacted individuals are available.

We have an obligation to the 5.2 million Americans whose livelihoods depend on maintaining their security clearances to ensure that agencies that establish these programs do so in a manner that guards against abuses, including targeting and retaliation by supervisors, as well as improper or excessive invasions of privacy. The urge to adopt continuous evaluation in response to high-profile incidents involving individuals with access to classified information who violated the terms of their oaths is understandable. However, the adoption of continuous evaluation does not absolve the Intelligence Community of its obligations to bolster the protection of its classified holdings.

Regrettably, H.R. 4681 may send the wrong message to agencies, as it does not include language to direct agencies to raise the bar on access controls; thereby, giving the impression that our concern is principally about employees' actions and behaviors. I also have concerns about the bill's view of the future of security clearance investigations and adjudications and the degree to which it sets the stage for computers and algorithms to replace humans in this process.

Specifically, it directs the DNI to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on reducing or eliminating the manual process of security clearance investigations and adjudications. The guiding principle in the adjudication process is the concept of the whole person where information is brought to bear to give a full picture of an individual. The prospect that we would empower a computer to render judgment of a person's integrity, character, and loyalty to our Nation is troubling. In the coming weeks, I will be introducing comprehensive security clearance reform legislation that, among other things, addresses known weaknesses in the current system, establishes expectations for continuous evaluation programs, and demands proper performance from investigative service providers.

It also would greatly expand the resources and responsibilities of the Public Interest Declassification Board. A well-resourced and robust Board is essential to increasing accountability of the Intelligence Community and ensuring that information of extraordinary public interest gets declassified. I am pleased that the underlying bill would renew the authorization for the Board through 2018. This is a good step.

Before I yield back, I would note that while I am pleased that the bill authorizes intelligence operations within DHS, I am disturbed that in advance of today's vote, members of the Homeland Security Committee Staff were not granted access to the classified annex of this legislation, as it is relevant to the Committee's oversight jurisdiction. I would hope that as this bill moves through the legislative process, the stovepipes that exist within this chamber that hinder critical information sharing and oversight can be overcome for the benefit of the American people.

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Media Contact: Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978