New agency likely to own federal security clearance process

A former federal counterintelligence official says the White House is poised to stand up a new agency that will own the federal security clearance process.

The formation of a new organization, the National Investigative Service Agency, would move ownership of the security clearance process away from the Office of Personnel Management, which assumed oversight of the program from the Defense Department in 2004.

“I’m not sure where it’s going to land yet,” said Doug Thomas, director for counterintelligence operations and corporate investigations at Lockheed Martin, during a Dec. 7 panel discussion at the Wilson Center. “It’s going to have a new director, it’s going to have a new focus. So I’m trying to remain optimistic about that.”

The Suitability and Security Performance Accountability Council, an interagency group that includes the Director of National Intelligence, Office of Personnel Management director and representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and Energy, should be ready to submit the results of its 90-day review of the federal security clearance process in the coming weeks. The White House mandated the review in July, following recent data breaches at OPM that compromised personally identifiable information for more than 21 million people.

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The key stakeholders were briefed on the plans this week, said Thomas, who is also the former chair of the National Counterintelligence Operations Board.

Sources told Federal News Radio Dec. 7 that the council was focused on moving investigative services to the Homeland Security Department or FBI. Other options included moving the services back to DoD or keeping them under OPM’s oversight.

OPM released a request for proposal last month for a workforce planning study of its Federal Investigative Services, signaling that the results of the White House study will be available soon.

Apart from the forthcoming results, experts suggested that some solutions to fix the federal security clearance process aren’t so complicated.

The technology, similar to what the insurance and banking industries use, already exists and could solve most of agencies’ processing problems, said Randy Fort, director of programs security for the Raytheon Corporation and former assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Fort, frustrated that the process for obtaining a security clearance often takes weeks, months and in some cases, years, said getting cleared should be as quick as swiping a credit or debit card at the point of purchase.

“We need to go copy people who know what they’re doing and copy effectively,” he said. “There would be a lot of companies that would be willing to do that. So what’s the critical need? It’s simple: it’s leadership. We have to get senior leaders involved in this and make this not priority number 17.1.4.A, but in the top two or three things that they’re going to do.”

Joan Dempsey, executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton and former deputy director of Central Intelligence for Community Management, suggested agencies consider a philosophical shift in the way they’re considering security clearance reform.

“If we treated personnel security as a mission, rather than as an administrative function we have to deal with, then we would be able to spend the money and solve the problem,” she said.