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July 12, 2012

GAO: Federal Hiring Security Clearance Guidelines Need Revamp

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, released the below statement in response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he requested on security clearance requirements for federal civilian positions, entitled "Security Clearances: Agencies Need Clearly Defined Policy for Determining Civilian Position Requirements" (GAO-12-800). In the report, GAO found that there are essentially no agreed upon standards for requiring security clearances for federal jobs. The lack of clear criteria and commonly accepted standards may contribute to the exponential growth in federal jobs requiring a security clearance. Security clearance requirements for federal jobs that do not involve handling national security information may hinder transparency and openness in government. GAO found that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has failed to provide executive branch agencies with accurate policy and procedures for determining if federal civilian positions require a security clearance, leaving Executive branch agencies without clearly defined policies and procedures.

Without clear guidance from the DNI, agencies cannot build a system of consistent and uniform policies. The proliferation of unnecessary security clearance requirements is expensive. The executive branch spent $1 billion on background investigations for suitability and security clearances. Between FY2005 and FY2011, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) had a 79 percent increase (from about $602 million to almost $1.1 billion) in its cost to conduct background investigations. As of 2011, over 4.8 million federal government and contractor employees held or were eligible for a clearance.

GAO recommends that that DNI collaborate with the Director of OPM to issue clearly-defined policy and procedures, modify the position designation tool to replicate that guidance, and issue guidance to require executive branch agencies to periodically evaluate federal civilian positions to validate or amend the necessity for a security clearance.

Congressman Thompson released the following statement with the report:

"This report shows that the DNI and OPM need to do much more to provide guidance to agencies on security clearance hiring requirements. In just the past few years, the number of positions with security clearances has soared. While we must always first ensure that national security is protected, we must also ensure that artificial barriers to employment are not created in the federal government. While demanding unnecessary clearances could lead to a waste of precious resources, it could also unfortunately be a signal of a less open government."

Link to Report

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