Clearance Checks – Senators Press for Action

Writing on a paper with a pen.

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan group of Senators is urging the leaders of the Senate Homeland Security Committee to take action on their legislation that would better protect the country's secure installations and sensitive information by strengthening security clearance background checks.

After security leaks from contractor Edward Snowden and the tragic shooting at the Washington Navy Yard illustrated systemic problems with the security clearance background check process, Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), introduced bipartisan legislation to implement periodic automated reviews of public records and databases for any information that might affect the security clearance status of individuals who have such a clearance. Currently, once a person obtains a security clearance, no additional reviews of the person's background are conducted until the person must renew his/her security clearance. That interval could be up to 5, 10, or even 15 years depending on the level of the security clearance.

The Senators wrote this week to the Chairman and ranking Republican member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to urge action on their bill.

"The murders at the Navy Yard last year have demonstrated that we must improve our current security clearance process," the Senators wrote. "Our bill represents a sensible path forward to protect national security and our federal personnel ... We request that you mark this bill up in Committee as soon as possible so that it can be brought to the Senate floor."

The Senators' letter is available online, here.

This bipartisan legislation would require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to implement an automated review that would search public records and databases for information on every individual with a security clearance at least twice, at random times, every five years. These audits would identify information these individuals are already obligated by law to disclose, including information relating to any criminal or civil legal proceeding; financial information relating to the covered individual; data maintained on any terrorist or criminal watch list; and any publicly-available information that suggests ill intent, vulnerability to blackmail, compulsive behavior, allegiance to another country, or change in ideology of the covered individual.

If, in the course of a randomly timed audit required under the Senators' bill, the review finds any information pertinent to the person's ongoing eligibility to hold a security clearance, the OPM would be required to notify the agency employing the individual-allowing the agency to follow the procedures already in current law to make an informed determination as to the individual's ongoing employment, level of clearance, and access to classified information.

Recent reports have identified significant issues in the execution of background investigations of Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis, including the exclusion of previous arrest records and a failure to independently verify submitted information.

The Collins-McCaskill-Ayotte-Heitkamp legislation has been endorsed by:

  • Federal Managers Association; 
  • The FBI Agents Association; 
  • The Alcohol-Tobacco-Firearms and Explosives Association;
  • The International Association of Chiefs of Police 
  • The National Native American Law Enforcement Association; 
  • General Dynamics Information Technologies; 
  • LexisNexis; 
  • Lt. Gen. Charles J. Cunningham Jr., Former Director of the Defense Security Service (1999-2002); 
  • Brian Stafford, Former Director of the United States Secret Service (1999-2003); 
  • Howard Safir, Former Police Commissioner of New York City (1996-2000); 
  • Floyd Clarke, Former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (1993); 
  • Michael Sullivan, Former Acting Director of the ATF (2006-2009) and US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts (2001-2009);
  • TechAmerica Foundation;
  • and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.
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