DOD Personnel

Weaknesses in Security Investigation Program Are Being Addressed Gao ID: T-NSIAD-00-148 April 6, 2000

From 1982 to 1999, 68 of the 80 persons convicted of spying against the United States were Defense Department (DOD) employees. All of them had undergone personnel security investigations and held security clearances. This testimony describes how decisions are made to grant or deny security clearances to DOD employees and contractors, summarizes the key findings from GAO's recent report on this subject (GAO/NSIAD-00-12, Oct. 1999), and discusses the steps that DOD has taken in response to GAO's recommendations.

GAO noted that: (1) DOD uses a two-part process to determine whether an individual should be granted a security clearance; (2) the first phase is the personnel security investigation, in which DSS investigators corroborate information provided by the applicant, interview character references, and review federal and local records for financial vulnerabilities and criminal activity; (3) the second phase is the adjudication, which is conducted by 8 DOD components; (4) adjudicators weigh favorable and unfavorable information with regard to a number of factors (such as the nature, extent, and seriousness of any conduct); (5) if, on balance, the evidence suggests the individual is a good security risk, the clearance can be granted; (6) safeguarding sensitive national security information is one of the most important responsibilities entrusted to public servants; (7) it is critical that only those individuals who have passed the scrutiny of rigorous background investigations be granted security clearances; (8) unfortunately, GAO's evaluation of DSS personnel security investigations showed that the vast majority did not comply with federal standards for conducting such investigations; (9) all of DOD employees investigated were granted top secret security clearances even though DSS investigators had not always verified such basic information as residency, citizenship, or employment; (10) GAO also found that these investigations were not completed in a timely manner; (11) at the time of GAO's review, DSS estimated that there was a backlog of 600,000 cases awaiting reinvestigation; (12) as a result, some of DOD's 2.4 million personnel holding security clearances may be handling sensitive national security information without having been thoroughly screened; (13) several factors, including a series of ineffective management reforms at DSS between 1996 and early 1999 contributed to these deficiencies; (14) DOD has responded positively to GAO's recommendations for improving the overall management of its personnel security investigation program; (15) the Director of DSS has developed a strategic plan and is developing performance measures to improve the quality of the investigative work, has reinstituted training and quality control mechanisms, and has worked out a plan for addressing the large backlog of cases awaiting reinvestigation; (16) by May 2000, DSS must provide the Deputy Secretary of Defense a plan to enhance or replace DOD's automated case management system; and (17) however, due to the breadth of the problems, it may take several years and many millions of dollars before all of the necessary improvements are made.

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