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GAO puts security clearance process on its High Risk List

"Currently, executive branch agencies are unable to investigate and process personnel security clearances in a timely manner," says the Government Accountability Office, which has added the federal security clearance process to its High Risk List. The list was created by the nonpartisan watchdog agency in 1990 in an effort to emphasize areas in serious need of reform or improvement to avoid waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.

The High Risk List is usually updated every two years, and the next review is scheduled for publish in early 2019, according to NPR. The GAO's comptroller general, however, decided the problem needed to be addressed now -- and the warning applies throughout the government, not just to specific agencies.

In a statement last week, he said that improving the security clearance process is essential to minimize the risks of unauthorized disclosures of classified information and to help ensure that information about individuals with criminal histories or other questionable behavior is identified and assessed."

As of September 2017, there were as many as 700,000 background investigations in the pipeline. As of March of last year, it took over 450 days to complete a top secret security clearance -- over six months longer than in April 2016. Last year, the Trump administration stopped reporting on how many people were waiting for clearances.

The problem leaves potential hires and contractors in limbo. In the best cases, people are on the payroll but restricted from working on certain things. In some cases, lack of security clearances is disrupting the work of the government due to a shortage of cleared employees and contractors. It may also be driving up wages among those with clearances.

The GAO says the federal government hasn't improved the speed of clearance checks despite years of reform efforts. In fact, the government hasn't even developed broad standards to measure the quality of the background investigations it performs.

The personnel security clearance process has been on the High Risk List before, most recently in 2005 (for slowness) and 2007 (for quality issues at OPM and DoD). It was removed from the list in 2011.

Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says the system is broken. He requested two GAO studies of the process that highlighted several issues. He called the 70-year-old clearance system broken.

Warner has asked the Office of Management and Budget for enough funding to help agencies and departments conduct quality investigations in a timely fashion.

Is your job or career being held up due to a security clearance issue?

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