Personnel Security Clearances: Opportunities Exist to Improve Quality Throughout the Process Page: 3 of 36
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Chairman King, Ranking Member Higgins, and Members of the
Thank you for the opportunity to be here to discuss the quality of the
federal government's personnel security clearance process. In 2012, the
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) reported that more than 4.9 million
federal government and contractor employees held or were eligible to
hold a security clearance,1 posing formidable challenges to those
responsible for deciding who should be granted a clearance. Personnel
security clearances allow for access to classified information on a need to
know basis. Federal agencies also use other processes and procedures
to determine if an individual should be granted access to certain
government buildings or facilities or be employed as a military, federal
civilian, or contractor employee for the federal government. Separate
from, but related to, personnel security clearances are determinations of
suitability that the executive branch uses to ensure individuals are
suitable, based on character and conduct, for federal employment in their
agency or position. We have reported that the federal government spent
over $1 billion to conduct more than 2 million background investigations
(in support of both personnel security clearances and suitability
determinations for government employment outside of the intelligence
community) in fiscal year 2011.2
A high-quality process is essential in order to minimize the risks of
unauthorized disclosures of classified information and to help ensure that
information about individuals with criminal activity or other questionable
behavior is identified and assessed as part of the process for granting or
retaining clearances. Security clearances may allow personnel to gain
access to classified information that, through unauthorized disclosure,
can in some cases cause exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national
security. Recent events, such as unauthorized disclosures of classified
information, have illustrated both the potential consequences of such
disclosures and the need for additional work on the part of federal
agencies to help ensure the process functions effectively and efficiently,
10Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2012 Report on Security Clearance
Determinations (January 2013).
2GAO, Background Investigations: Office of Personnel Management Needs to Improve
Transparency of Its Pricing and Seek Cost Savings, GAO-12-197 (Washington, D.C.: Feb.
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Personnel Security Clearances: Opportunities Exist to Improve Quality Throughout the Process, text, November 13, 2013; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc301609/m1/3/: accessed February 20, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.