Not Even Richard Burr’s Son Could Avoid Security Clearance Review Backlog

Intelligence chairman made point during oversight hearing on clearance process

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr said his own son faced security clearance review delays. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr told a story at Wednesday’s hearing about the security clearance process of a 22 year-old seeking employment with the Department of Defense roughly a decade ago.

It took that young man almost a year to get through the clearance hurdles. He was the North Carolina Republican’s son.

“Here’s a kid that is incredibly excited to work for government, work where he did,” said Burr. “Ready to go, and after 11 months he wonders whether he made the right decision.”

It’s a small but not insignificant anecdote about the federal government’s longstanding issues with getting security clearances through to contractors and government employees — and moving workers from billet to another.

The Government Accountability Office’s director of  DOD Strategic Human Capital Management Brenda Farrell testified in response to a question from Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford that it was her understanding the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was working on reciprocity guidance so that federal agencies had clear instructions on how to assess security reviews conducted by other agencies, but it wasn’t yet available.

“This is an issue of the DNI not issuing the policy on how reciprocity should be applied,” Farrell said.

“Current law does state ‘with certain exceptions’ so it’s up to the DNI to know what those certain exceptions are,” she testified. “There’s some guidance out there, but it’s not clear.”

‘That’s Preposterous’: King on Security Clearance Inefficiency

Another enlightening exchange took place between Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, and Professional Services Council President and CEO David Berteau.

The PSC is an association representing firms in the government contracting staffing business.

“I can’t believe what you just said,” King said during Berteau’s testimony. “You mean a person within the Homeland Security Department who has a clearance, to move from one job in Homeland Security to another job in Homeland Security takes a hundred days?”

“Yes sir, and it could even mean that a contractor sitting at the same desk moving to a different contract has to go through a new process,” Berteau said.

As is true of other organizational issues at DHS, Homeland Security’s issues appear to stem from the number of government agencies that were put into the department when it was created. Berteau said the Transportation Security Administration has a particular legal standard for clearance investigations, for instance.

The Pentagon and others in the intelligence community appeared from the hearing to have committee support for improving the process and reducing delays, though Burr also indicated he was loathe to back requests for more money to help clear out the backlog without reforms actually being implemented first.

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