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GAO: Security Clearance Confusion for Civilian Federal Workers Too Costly

Perhaps because of a lack of agreed-upon standards for security clearance requirements for federal civilian employees, there has been significant expansion in the number of government jobs requiring security clearances, according to a July 12 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report, Security Clearances: Agencies Need Clearly Defined Policy for Determining Civilian Position Requirements (GAO-12-800), stated that some agencies have been trying on an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) tool to determine the sensitivity and risk levels of various civilian positions’ background check requirements.

According to the report, the OPM tool produces wildly varying degrees of clearance, complicating the processes and contradicting other departments’ standards. For example, an April 2012 audit shows that OPM reviewed the sensitivity levels for 39 positions in an agency within the Department of Defense and produced different conclusions for 26 of them.

The lack of clear guidance is costly, the report says, and could lead to more clearances than necessary.

House Homeland Security Committee minority leader Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said in a July 12 statement that the executive branch spent $1 billion on background investigations for suitability and security clearances, and that between fiscal years 2005 and 2011, OPM had a 79 percent increase (from approximately $602 million to $1.1 billion) in its background investigation costs. As of 2011, Thompson says, more than 4.8 million federal government and contractor employees held or were eligible for clearance.

The report recommends that the Director of National Intelligence collaborate with the director of OPM to issue clearly-defined policy and procedures, modify the position designation tool and issue guidance to require executive branch agencies to periodically evaluate federal civilian positions to validate or amend the necessity of clearance.

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