Intelligence Bill Seeks Faster Clearance Reviews, Other Reforms

Secret cover sheets are handled by an intelligence analyst with the 169th Operations Support Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., in 2015.

South Carolina Air National Guard / Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago

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Secret cover sheets are handled by an intelligence analyst with the 169th Operations Support Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., in 2015.

The bill would also allow the government to give “derogatory information” about individual contractors to their companies.

The annual Intelligence Authorization Act, which recently passed committee with near-unanimous approval, would set a time limit on agencies reviewing security clearance decisions where applicants are denied or a worker’s clearance is revoked.  

Such reviews must be completed within an average of 180 days, text of the legislation reads.  

This is a significant and important change from the status quo, according to Lindy Kyzer, senior editor of ClearanceJobs.com, a site dedicated to fostering national security careers. 

Government officials have been working to address a backlog of security clearances, which are often necessary to serve on the federal cybersecurity workforce

Related: It’s Official: The Pentagon Now Runs the Security Clearance Process

Related: Security Clearance Backlog Hits Long-Awaited ‘Steady State’

“Without timeline requirements, security clearance denials and revocations can languish for years without conclusion,” Kyzer told Nextgov, noting that the provision “correlates with an area where Congress has been straightforward and helpful—trying to establish accountability to the executive branch and Security Executive Agent to ensure consistency in the process.”

A pair of executive orders—12968 and 10865—form the foundation of due process for federal workers and contractors in accordance with decisions made by agencies about their access to classified information.

According to ClearanceJobs.com’s William Henderson, the orders “adequately protect an applicant from arbitrary or capricious security clearance decisions, but they offer no protection from being unfairly denied a clearance due to an agency’s inaction,” and many agencies don’t have a timing requirement for processing appeals.

The timing requirement is among a number of provisions in a bipartisan bill senators proposed March 2019, to protect the integrity of the security clearance process by requiring decisions to grant, deny or revoke clearances be based on published criteria. It followed President Trump’s revocation of security clearance for former CIA director John Brennan and reports that the president overruled intelligence officials who recommended against granting security clearances to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

“Our bipartisan bill will make clear that security clearances are not to be used as a tool to punish political opponents or reward family members, but to ensure personnel are thoroughly vetted to the highest standards,” bill sponsor Mark Warner, D-Va., said at the time.  

Whistleblower advocates praised the legislation, saying it would help protect against retaliation by agency officials. 

A new provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act takes a different tack for dealing with those who would reveal government secrets.

It would make accepting a security clearance contingent on a contractor employee providing written consent for the government to share “derogatory information” with the chief information security officer of the contracted employee’s employer.

“Senator Warner’s provision establishing a policy requiring government agencies to share information on cleared contractors with their companies will ensure bad apples like Edward Snowden aren’t passed around without companies knowing the risks they may be taking on,” Warner’s spokesperson told Nextgov. “This provision will identify potential insider threats earlier and more effectively to prevent disclosures and other breaches of cybersecurity.”

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