McCaskill, Tester want retrospective review at last transfer of security clearance process

Just as the Defense Department is developing a plan to move the security clearance process for its personnel back into the Defense Security Service, two lawmakers want the Government Accountability Office to study the previous consolidation back in 2005.

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) wrote to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro on Feb. 6 asking for an analysis of what went right and what went wrong when DoD moved its security clearances to the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Investigative Service (FIS) nearly 12 years ago.

McCaskill and Tester say it’s essential to “gather the lessons learned from previous transfers of authority and apply them to the creation of the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) or any other division of labor that Congress may authorize.”

In the letter, which Federal News Radio obtained, the lawmakers ask GAO to look at 11 elements of the 2005 transfer and complete the study before Oct. 1.


Part of the reason the senators are asking GAO to finish the analysis before fiscal 2018 is Congress included a provision in the National Defense Authorization bill for 2017 requiring DoD to submit a study about what it would take to bring security clearances back to DSS to Congress by Aug. 1.

In the NDAA, lawmakers said the DoD secretary and the director of OPM “shall develop a plan to transfer government investigative personnel and contracted resources to the department in proportion to the background and security investigative workload that would be assumed by the department.”

The DoD secretary also has until June to “establish a personnel security program, and take such other actions as the secretary considers appropriate, to support the Innovation Initiative of the department to better leverage commercial technology.”

With these actions underway by DoD, McCaskill and Tester want GAO to help the Pentagon understand real and potential challenges.

The legislators are asking GAO to look at everything from the timeliness for investigations by DSS from 1998 through 2016, including for top secret periodic reinvestigations, National Agency Checks with Law and Credit (NACLC) checks for secret level employees and a breakdown of year by year staffing levels for DSS, including government and contractor, to support the workload, to comparing the investigator’s handbook in 2005 to 2016’s version.

Additionally, GAO will review DoD’s budget for background investigations from 1998 to 2016 and the efficiency of the federal workforce broken down by year and agency in charge.

Another interesting part of the request is McCaskill and Tester want GAO to review high visibility investigations conducted by OPM for Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Maj. Nidal Hassan and Aaron Alexis and whether using DoD/DSS investigative policies and procedures would’ve made any difference.

The move by Congress to study this issue and, for some, the strong desire to move the security clearance process for DoD personnel back to the DSS might be a bit premature giving the NBIB hasn’t reached full capability.

Additionally, the security clearance process is making slow, but steady progress in some areas such as reciprocity.