WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate this week gave unanimous approval to the Security Clearance Accountability, Reform, and Enhancement Act, bipartisan legislation backed by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill aimed at better protecting the country’s secure facilities and sensitive information by strengthening accountability in background checks.
“When it comes to conducting background checks on the individuals who handle America’s most secure secrets and institutions, there is no room for error,” said McCaskill, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight and former Missouri State Auditor. “Considering the kinds of threats we face as a nation, security clearance background checks must be conducted with the utmost level of oversight, integrity, and accountability.”
This legislation would direct the Office of Personnel Management to terminate or place on leave any employee that is involved in intentional misconduct affecting the integrity of background investigations, including falsification, fraud, or other serious misconduct. Individuals employed or contracted by the Office of Personnel Management that are intentionally involved in such misconduct would also be debarred or suspended.
Additionally, the legislation would direct the President to review and update guidance for agencies to: (1) determine whether a position requires a security clearance; (2) implement such guidance, including quality controls; and (3) review (at least every five years) and, if necessary, revise the designation of a position as requiring access to classified information or secure government facilities.
Following the systemic problems with the security clearance background check process highlighted by security leaks from contractor Edward Snowden and the tragic shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, McCaskill revealed that USIS, the company responsible for conducting the background investigations for both Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, was under criminal investigation. After McCaskill questioned the fact that USIS had two separate contracts with the federal government—one to conduct background investigations, the other to oversee background investigations conducted by contractors, including USIS itself—the federal government stopped allowing private contractors to oversee their own work in security clearance background checks.
McCaskill has led additional efforts to bring accountability to the security clearance process, including two other related pieces of bipartisan legislation. The first— the Security Clearance Oversight Reform (SCORE) Act—became law in October of 2013. This legislation allows the Inspector General of Office of Personnel Management to use resources from the agency’s $2 billion Revolving Fund to more thoroughly investigate cases where the integrity of the background check process may have been compromised.
The second bill, would require OPM to implement an automated search of public records and databases on every individual with a security clearance at least twice, at random times, every five years. As it stands now, once a person obtains a security clearance no additional reviews of that person’s background are conducted until their security clearance is renewed. Depending on the level of security clearance, that interval could be up to 5, 10, or even 15 years.