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Watchdog Says Security Clearances Are ‘High Risk.’ Again

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor

A government watchdog recently added the federal security clearance process back onto the list of programs that are considered a high risk for mismanagement and wasted taxpayer funds.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) won’t release its updated High Risk List until 2019, but the watchdog wanted to call attention to the process’ challenges immediately, GAO wrote Thursday. The Pentagon’s security clearance process was previously added to the list in 2005 and the Office of Personnel Management’s was added in 2007, but was removed in 2011.

“A high-quality and timely personnel security clearance process is essential to minimize the risks of unauthorized disclosures of classified information and to help ensure that information about individuals with criminal histories or other questionable behavior is identified and assessed,” Comptroller General and GAO chief Gene Dodaro said in a statement.

“Our objective for the High Risk List is to bring attention to policymakers of the need for action sooner, rather than later,” he continued.

There’s a backlog of more than 700,000 people awaiting security clearances as of September 2017 – a massive increase from the nearly 191,000 in August 2014, according to Government Executive.

“Renewed and strong top leadership commitment will be critical to facilitate progress in reducing the backlog and completing key improvements to the personnel security clearance process,” Dodaro said.

GAO also noted that there are no goals for increasing the number of officials who can help decrease the backlog, and cited delays in processing clearances.

House Committee On Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah Cummings has previously called for investigations into the security clearance process.

“Today’s urgent action by the nonpartisan investigators at GAO confirms what I have been warning about for months,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement Thursday. “Serious deficiencies in our nation’s security clearance processes represent an urgent and grave risk to our national security, not only with respect to systemic challenges, but also with respect to specific individuals who should not have access to our nation’s most highly guarded secrets.”

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