Security clearance process now more streamlined, says official

A top DOD official is reporting key progress in making personnel security clearances faster and more efficient.

The Defense Department is beginning to see the fruits of efforts to streamline processes for personnel security clearances, including improvements in speed and efficiency of background investigations, according to a DOD official.

Elizabeth McGrath, DOD deputy chief management officer, testified June 21 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee the progress has had a direct, positive impact on DOD operations, according to a DOD release.

As a result of the efforts, McGrath said, DOD’s personnel security clearance process was removed from Government Accountability Office’s “high risk” list last year. It marks the first time since 1990 – the list’s inception – the process wasn’t considered by GAO to be at high risk for waste, fraud and abuse.

The improvements are a result of a combination of efforts, including initiatives to cut duplication and waste, better train adjudication personnel and move to automated systems, McGrath said in her testimony. New governance overseeing performance and coordination between agencies has also been established and had a positive impact, she said.

“Our efforts have resulted in timeliness that far exceeds goals set by Congress in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, a superior security clearance quality program, and information technology systems that enhance departmentwide capabilities and are being studied for implementation by other government agencies,” McGrath noted.

Technology has played a key role, with McGrath’s office taking advantage of enterprise tools.

In the 2004 act, a 20-day goal was set for the adjudication of clearances, which McGrath said DOD has surpassed. She noted the Case Adjudication Tracking System, originally designed by the Army and now deployed across DOD, has helped improve the average speed of processing, with the fastest 90 percent of DOD’s adjudication of initial confidential, secret and top secret investigations down to seven days.

McGrath additionally highlighted the success under the Performance Accountability Council, which was established by executive order in 2008 and has offered significant impact on DOD’s streamlining efforts.

“The advances DOD has made thus far in security clearance processing, timeliness and quality would not have been achieved without the dedication and top-down direction from the PAC,” McGrath said in her testimony. “The PAC’s focus on performance, quality, technological improvement, and standardization of key practices in investigation and adjudication has guided the department’s achievements.”

The efforts are in keeping with broader DOD plans for streamlining processes and cutting duplication, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has repeatedly called for.

“Under Secretary Panetta’s leadership, DOD continues to emphasize reducing duplication, overhead and excess spending. Personnel across the department are tasked with streamlining activities, instilling a culture of savings and accountability, and identifying and executing savings,” McGrath said.