Fixing the Security Clearance Bottleneck

From the Department of Defense to NASA, many government employees – and many private-sector contractors doing government work – depend on the security clearance process. These reviews are essential to the safety of our country, but it’s also essential that they’re finished as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, as of mid-2018, the backlog of clearance reviews had reached a record high of about 720,000. While recently some progress has been made, there are still hundreds of thousands of government and industry employees waiting for security clearances – highly-skilled people doing important work, but who are sidelined by an inefficient system.

Because of this backlog, aerospace and defense companies often must ask new workers to delay their start date or instead assign them less important work for months until their clearances are approved. The slow pace impedes our ability to recruit talented individuals for important roles, like conducting space missions, managing cyber networks, and performing advanced manufacturing.

That’s why AIA began calling attention to the clearance backlog in late 2016, even before it rose to a record level. Since then, AIA has consistently advocated for streamlined clearance standards, a single system of record with clearance reciprocity, and a transparent, accountable, and technologically-enabled investigation and re-investigation process.

And we’ve seen some results. Just last month, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced the Modernizing the Trusted Workforce for the 21st Century Act of 2018 (which will be reintroduced in the new Congress early this year). We fully support this bill, as it takes strong steps toward implementing our recommended “Four Ones” reforms (one application, one investigation, one adjudication, and one clearance), thereby reducing the backlog, and modernizing and streamlining the process going forward.

AIA also supports the White House’s proposal to transfer all federal government background investigations from the National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB) to DOD. Rather than creating parallel processes that risk draining resources, causing further delays, hindering process improvements, and undermining efforts to move the government toward true reciprocity across all departments and agencies, this proposed Executive Order should be issued immediately, so that DOD and NBIB can make best use of it in their transition planning.

Finally, because both external and internal threats are non-linear, security clearance reinvestigations should be as well. We’re encouraged that DOD recently issued guidance allowing new technology to determine which employees don’t require a full investigation to renew their security clearances. This system, known as Continuous Evaluation, includes high-risk security clearance factors such as credit anomalies, excessive travel, foreign contacts, etc. and couldn’t have come at a better time. As a pilot program, continuous evaluation included about one third of DOD clearance holders and proved to be a valuable tool; DOD should expand the population of clearance holders under continuous evaluation as fast as possible. Using this new system and introducing updated technology, including robust insider threat tools, will move the government to a more efficient, continuous, thorough, and secure process.

The U.S. aerospace and defense industry is a powerful engine for the American economy, employing 2.4 million American workers and generating billions of dollars in our communities. Fixing the security clearance bottleneck will ensure these companies can continue to attract top talent and help keep this nation safe.