No One Seems to Care About This Major Threat to National Security

Because of the Edward Snowden case, government officials held a joint hearing on June 20. The purpose was to examine how Congress can improve the accountability and oversight of the the security clearance system. 

Edward Snowden was granted a security clearance that gave him access to highly classified information because there is no unified, clearly defined system in place. The patchwork system that does exist is ripe with fraud, is not audited, and the people responsible do not seem to care.

Witnesses before the committees were: Patrick E. McFarland, inspector general U.S. Office of Personnel Management; Merton W. Miller, associate director of Investigations Federal Investigative Services, U.S. Office of Personnel Management; Stephen F. Lewis, deputy director, security directorate, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) U.S. Department of Defense; and Brenda S. Farrell, director, Defense Capabilities and Management U.S. Government Accountability Office. They were questioned by committee chairs Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and ranking members Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

The hearing revealed:

- There is no uniform process for requesting and approving security clearances. The decision is left up to the agency requesting the clearance.

- 87% of security clearance investigations are returned to the requesting agency with incomplete information. The agency returns less than 1% for reprocessing, meaning that potentially 86% of incomplete investigations result in granted clearances.

USIS, the contractor that performed the investigation that resulted in Edward Snowden's security clearance, is under federal investigation for fraud. But the company is permitted to continue conducting security clearance investigations while the investigation is ongoing.

- Numerous investigations of fraud against contractors or their employees are ongoing. Both the contractors and individual employees are permitted to continue working during the investigation.

- The inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is unable to audit the process because of restrictions on use of revolving funds. In her confirmation hearing (31:37), the nominee for OPM Director, Katherine Arculetta, committed to work with the Inspector General and Congress in correcting this.

- Currently five million individuals and over 10,000 companies hold security clearances and 1.4 million of the individual clearances are top secret. This does not include members of Congress who, upon election, are immediately granted top secret clearance without any investigation.

The witnesses seemed unprepared and lacking in knowledge about the activities of their respective departments. McFarland had to frequently turn to his assistant for even the simplest of answers. Their answers gave the impression that they were not concerned about the fact that the security clearance investigation process was severely broken.

It will be up to the new director of OPM to fix the security clearance system. This cannot be delayed. The longer the system remains broken, the more threat there is to our national security.