When granting security clearance, U.S. agencies lack consistency, says report
WASHINGTON—Federal agencies lack a clearly defined policy for determining the issuance of security clearances, an oversight that left unfixed could lead to national security breaches, according to a new study from the Government Accountability Office.
The GAO focused its study on civilian employees of the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, as those two agencies grant the most security clearances.
What it found is that while the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is responsible for developing consistent policies needed to determine a government employee's eligibility to access classified information, that guidance is missing. Inconsistent policies could lead to the disclosure of sensitive information that "in some cases [could] cause exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national security," the GAO reported in a letter to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, which requested the GAO study.
In the absence of guidance from the DNI, agencies are using a tool from the Office Personnel Management (OPM) designed to determine the sensitivity and risk levels of civilian positions. However, the GAO found inconsistencies in how the OPM tool was utilized. In a April 2012 audit, the OPM reviewed the sensitivity levels of 39 positions within a DOD agency. The OPM reached different conclusions than the agency for 26 of those positions, the GAO reported.
"Without guidance from the DNI, and without collaboration between the DNI and OPM in future revisions to the tool, executive branch agencies will continue to risk making security clearance determinations that are inconsistent or at improper levels," the GAO said.
In addition, the GAO found a lack of established guidance means agencies are not consistently reviewing existing security clearances.
The GAO recommended the DNI issue consistent and well-defined policies for agencies to follow when determining security clearances for civilian employees and for the periodic review of existing clearances. It also said DNI and OPM should work together to revise the existing tool being used to determine clearance eligibility.