Random audits would close gaps in security clearance process

Wednesday - 7/30/2014, 4:00pm EDT

Random audits could become part of the security clearance process, under a bill passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday.

The Enhanced Security Clearance Act of 2013 requires the Office of Personnel Management to implement an enhanced security clearance system. Under the system, every security clearance gets two random audits over a five-year time period.

As agencies are developing continuous evaluation to monitor clearance holders, the bill would fill gaps in the interim.

Closing the gaps

"This is going to close a hole in our security clearance process," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said. "It increases greatly the likelihood that troubling behavior by cleared personnel will be identified."

McCaskill — along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) — introduced the bill.

Depending on the level of clearance, current legislation allows some security clearance holders to go 15 years without an audit.

"Right now, it's just far too long of a period of review," Ayotte said. "And as we know, things can change ... fairly dramatically in people's lives."

Other types of security clearances require reviews every five or 10 years. Between reviews, federal employees and contractors who hold clearances are required to self report any incidents that could affect their ability to maintain a clearance.

Ayotte and McCaskill both said the self-reporting method is ineffective, and random audits would allow OPM better oversight in the security clearance process.

"This random audit will allow us to get better information, and people actually, I think, [would be] encouraged to self report, because they'll be subject to random audits," Ayotte said.

McCaskill agreed that random audits could lead to an increase in self reporting.

"If you know you could be randomly audited at any time, I think it's going to have the kind of effect we want it to have on this security clearance workforce self reporting, when there are issues that would, in fact, surface in a random audit," McCaskill said.

Clearance holders owe taxes

The vote on the bill comes just two days after a Government Accountability Office report revealed that thousands of security clearance holders owed millions of dollars in taxes.

According to GAO, 83,000 Defense Department employees and contractors, who held or were determined eligible for a security clearance, owed more than $730 million in unpaid taxes as of June 2012.

"I don't think we want people with huge financial stresses in a position that they can market secrets of our government," McCaskill said.

Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said he supports the legislation, but Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) raised concerns.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has implemented a continous evaluation system, but the agency has not yet responsed to the Senate committee regarding revisions to the bill.

"One of my worries is we're going to direct dollars that are going to take away from that system, through this one, and we will have still not gone after the root cause," Coburn said. "The question is, if we pass this bill, will we delay the action that [ODNI] is taking right now?"

Coburn said he would not vote yes — nor would he vote no — on the bill.

"The problem is real; the solution is part of the way. I think we have farther to go before we have a bill on the floor," he said.

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