Tester aims to strengthen OPM's oversight of security clearance process

Monday - 7/22/2013, 3:04pm EDT

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) on the "Federal Drive" with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp

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By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

Lawmakers are taking steps to ensure only qualified government employees and contractors obtain security clearances.

New legislation, the Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement Act (S.1276), seeks to tighten the security clearance process.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) July 10, would strengthen the authority of the Office of Personnel Management to terminate an individual for misconduct or for providing false background information.

"If an inspector — or person that's employed by the federal government or contractor — falsifies a background investigation report they're gone. They're fired. They're out the door. Because this has to be a zero-tolerance kind of situation," Tester said in an interview on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

SCORE comes after Edward Snowden, a government contractor with a high-level security clearance, leaked classified information about National Security Agency surveillance in June. Tester said the system already was broken, but the Snowden scandal brought the issue of security clearances to light.

"It pointed out to us, folks in Congress, that we have security threats from the outside that we're always focusing on, that we're spending hundreds of billions of dollars trying to make sure our security is solid," Tester said. "What we haven't paid much attention to is the folks who get security clearances and the impacts of someone releasing top secret stuff from the inside out."

The bill, which still is in committee, also would free up resources for OPM to do more oversight of the security clearance process.

"It makes it so there's money out of that revolving fund that can be used for audits," Tester said of the bill. "This revolving fund pays for the work that's done to make sure people are eligible to get a security clearance. It pays for those contractors out there that are doing the work to make sure folks are qualified to have a security clearance. To be able to let the inspector general in to audit that fund will be able to allow us to get more transparency in the fund and more transparency into the process of security clearances in general."

Finally, the legislation would enhance transparency regarding the guidelines used by agencies in determining when a security clearance should be required.

SCORE has bipartisan support.

"We've got folks from both sides of the aisle on it. And, hopefully, if the house doesn't have a bill, they'll take a look at ours and get it across the finish line over there and get it to the president's desk," Tester said.

Overall, 4.9 million government contractors and employees held security clearances as of October 2012, according to a January Office of the Director of National Intelligence report obtained by the Federation of American Scientists. About 1 million of those holding security clearances were government contractors.

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio

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