Despite an overwhelming mandate to speed up and reform the security clearance process, the intelligence community is still without any answers.
Top intelligence officials who want more flexibility for their workforce for a process that takes, at times, more than a year, still don’t have a solution to what kind of reform is needed.
That comes as the government tasks the new National Background Investigation Bureau with overhauling the security clearance process.
“We need a trusted, reliable workforce but the workforce isn’t going to be one that is static,” said Sue Gordon, the principal deputy of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during a Sept. 7 speech at an Intelligence and National Security Alliance event in Washington. “We want them to be able to move in and out, we want to attract the best talent, I don’t want to lose them in the 15 months it takes in order for them to get through [the security process], I want people to move in and out of our contractors, I want to be able to tap the expertise of the private sector to fill the gaps in our knowledge … and right now our system isn’t designed to be able to support that kind of mobility.”
Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Melissa Drisko seemed similarly frustrated.
“Why does it take so long to get this person through? I don’t know how to solve that. It gets back to the risk issue. How much risk are we willing to take? How many checks and balances do we need to have in terms of clearing people?” Drisko said.
Even with a security clearance reciprocity rate of 86 percent, intelligence agencies are still having trouble clearing a person from one agency to another.
Drisko said it sometimes comes down to things as simple as the type of polygraph test a person takes when entering an agency that hang up the transfer process.
“There’s a fundamental difference of opinion about vetting people and about the tools used to do that. It starts there. You don’t use the same polygraphs as I do or do the questions the way we do it, then right off the bat we kind of go back to the starting point,” Drisko said.
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo said the answer partly lies in continuous evaluation. NGA is part of the pilot program that regularly vets employees partly through automation.
The Intelligence Advanced Research Agency announced Sept. 7 they were researching methods of continuous evaluation.
The agency is embarking on a multi-year research effort to develop unobtrusive, passive and continuously sensing methods based on physiological and psychological aspects of a person.
“By taking advantage of the growing number of mobile, wearable, and environmental sensors, the [Multimodal Objective Sensing to Assess Individuals with Context] program aims to fill gaps left by traditional approaches to develop a more holistic view of a person and how they evolve throughout their career,” a Sept. 7 statement from IARPA reads.
The agency awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin, The University of Memphis, The University of Southern California, The University of Notre Dame, MITRE and MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Cardillo said continuous evaluation won’t help with the estimated 700,000 person backlog, but it will grease the wheels on some red tape and take some burden off those providing security clearances.
As the government competes more and more with industry for the best and brightest, it needs to take the demands it puts on its employees for security seriously.
“Part of the cultural challenge is we’ve got to find a balance here. If the price of security is that we drive away the very men and women that generate value in the first place, we now have a self-induced mission kill. That’s a bad place for us to be. By the same token you don’t want the opposite of that where everything is about generating maximum outcome so security is secondary to your objective. I reject that,” NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers said. “How do we find a bit of a middle ground? How do we also talk to the workforce, which is one of the things I did today, about what are the expectations of an intelligence professional in the 21st century?”
Figuring out who intelligence employees are and will be is also part of the challenge as leaders try to guess what skills will be needed years down the road.
Rogers said part of his job is making workforce decisions that will have an effect 20 years down the road.
Drisko said DIA is reexamining what the role of humans is in an intelligence world that is swamped with data.
“Trying to imagine what the analysts look like, what will the environment looks like in 10 years and even as we try to define it, does that make it obsolete even as we try to define it?” Drisko said. “What’s the value of the human being … that’s something that we are trying to explore and that will also drive us to making decisions about the kind of people we hire and draw in the future.”
Drisko said she needs to give her employees and future employees a realistic idea of the work environment they will be in.
That includes leaving cellphones at the door and being cautious about what apps are downloaded on computers.
“We try to find ways to make it feel like it’s not so restrictive and create ways to bring in and innovate and expose them to the art of the possible and that’s one of the big challenges we have,” she said.