Clearing the backlog
Tech, policy changes could cut costly security-clearance delays
A mix of technology and policy measures could help the federal government eliminate a backlog of security clearances that has left more than 700,000 workers unable to do their jobs, a top Raytheon executive told a Senate panel.
That backlog has more than tripled in the past four years, according to the United States Government Accountability Office, which declared the clearance process a matter of "high risk" in January.
Government employees and contractors need clearances when their jobs require them to have sensitive information, such as intelligence briefings or specifications of military systems. The delays are hampering the development of technology that supports the military and preserves national security, said Jane Chappell, vice president of global intelligence solutions at Raytheon's Intelligence, Information and Services business.
"What metrics fail to capture are the real-world impacts of the backlog," she told the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during a March 7 hearing. "New careers are put on hold, we risk losing talent to other industries, and programs that provide critical warfighter capabilities could suffer delays and cost increases."
Raytheon is among the many companies and agencies feeling the effects of the backlog, which officials blame on a shortage of investigators and a reliance on old, time-consuming methods. Nearly 70 percent of the company's 63,000 employees hold a clearance.
Additionally, more than 4,000 await new clearances, and 5,000 additional employees are in the midst of a periodic reinvestigation.
How long it takes to get a clearance depends on the level, Chappell said; a confidential clearance – the lowest level – took an average of 225 days in 2017; while a reinvestigation for a top-secret clearance took 615 days, or most of two years.
“Reducing the current backlog will require immediate and aggressive steps, some of which are already being addressed,” Chappell told the Senate committee.
Chappell proposed the effort be guided by what the aerospace and defense industry calls the "four ones:"
- One Application: a digital, permanent record forming the basis of all clearance investigations, updated continuously and stored securely.
- One Investigation: continuous evaluation, including tools that monitor the person's activity and contribute to a fluid, ongoing assessment of risk.
- One Adjudication: A system that sets standards across the government to score applicants' fitness, suitability and level of appropriate access.
- One Clearance: a universal system that would make a clearance from one department, agency or contract, valid across the entire government – much like how a driver's license from one state is valid across the country.
“We believe the implementation of these reforms will help eliminate the inefficiencies that hamstring the current clearance system while promoting more effective retention, recruitment, and utilization of government employees and contractors," Chappell said. "...based not on the availability of a clearance, but on skills and job performance."