Senator Jon Tester's special hearing today to examine how the federal government is conducting security clearance investigations revealed a lack of oversight and information sharing that wastes taxpayer dollars and jeopardizes the security of classified information.
Tester, chairman of the Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce, called his hearing in the wake of a 29-year-old government contractor leaking classified information to foreign newspapers and foreign governments. Tester's hearing, conducted jointly with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), exposed how a maze of contractors and shifting agency responsibilities threatens national security.
"Recent events have forced us all to take a closer look at the programs carried out in the name of national security and who has access to our nation's most sensitive data," Tester said. "Given the increasing number of folks with access to that information, we have a real problem on our hands if we can't get this right. There is no margin for error."
Military service members, federal workers, and contract personnel must obtain a security clearance to gain access to classified material. In 2012, there were 3.5 million federal employees and 1.1 million contractors who held a Secret or Top Secret Security Clearance.
While the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Investigative Services (FIS) Division conducts most background investigations, it contracts 70 percent of its investigations to three different outside companies. One of those contractors is under investigation itself, and watchdogs report that contractors falsified information and have failed to conduct thorough background investigations.
Representatives from several federal agencies, including the Defense Department and Office of Personnel Management (OPM), testified at Tester's hearing.
"My office has been alarmed for several years about the lack of oversight," said OPM's Inspector General Patrick McFarland. "It is vital that taxpayers have confidence that these investigations are conducted appropriately and in a timely, cost-effective manner."
Tester and McCaskill each lead a Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee. Tester's subcommittee oversees the federal workforce, while McCaskill's oversees federal contractors.
Today's hearing was the second for Tester's subcommittee. His first hearing examined ways to improve rural veterans' health care by getting government agencies to better work together and eliminate overlapping services.