The Race to Overhaul Security Clearance Checks

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It started with Snowden but didn't end with him. After the infamous contractor leaked sensitive government documents, Aaron Alexis, also a contractor with a security clearance, murdered 12 individuals at the Washington Navy Yard in a shooting spree. In light of these events, policymakers are scrambling to overhaul the security clearance process to prevent future Snowden's and Alexis'.

The first step was taken via the bipartisan Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act signed into law in February. According to Sen. Portman of Ohio, the SCORE Act is designed to increase oversight on background investigations by "providing authority to the Inspector General of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to use amounts in OPM's Revolving Fund to audit, investigate, and provide oversight for the activities of that fund."

"The cases of Edward Snowden and the tragic events that transpired at the Navy Yard underscore the importance of fixing the faults in our system," said Portman.  "While we have a ways to go to make sure this system is working as it should, at a minimum we need to ensure that agency watchdogs have the authority and resources they need to conduct oversight and investigate wrongdoing."

While the SCORE Act was a progressive first step in tightening security clearance background checks, there are more changes being planned. According to Defense One, Sen. Jon Tester, the problem is multi-faceted.

"For too long we've played fast and loose with the security clearance process," Tester said. "As a result, the process has lacked accountability, transparency and led to too many individuals having security clearances — even if they don't need them to fulfill their jobs. I will continue to work to reform the process so we can protect our nation and our interests."

Far from token tweaks to the system, lawmakers are introducing plans to drastically change it. The first point of focus is reducing the number of individuals with security clearances. Politicians have stated that one of the reasons for a glut of clearance holders is the practice of over-classifying material. When more documents are deemed classified, private and public organizations perceive a higher need for clearance holders in their ranks than is actually necessary.

Tester's next step is to push through the Security Clearance Accountability and Reform (SCARE) Act. SCARE would ensure that federal employees found guilty of manipulating a background investigation are never permitted to conduct such investigations again, and are more easily fireable for their actions.

In-line with Tester's efforts, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sen. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi introduced the Clearance and Over-Classification Reform and Reduction (CORRECT) Act. CORRECT's broad design is to reduce the number of clearance-holders by 10 percent in the next five years and to create stronger relevance between the job a professional will be doing and their need for clearance.

To ensure that clearance holders are more frequently evaluated, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine proposed an act which would increase the frequency and depth of checks. She proposed that all holders be evaluated twice every five years with digital, automated reviews of public records and databases such as court documents as well as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

For a full breakdown of proposed bills and which stage they're in, check out Defense One's infographic here.

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