The PJ Tatler

Legislative Snowden Reaction: Senators Try to Tighten Up Security Clearances

The inevitable Senate legislation to respond to the Edward Snowden NSA leaks has surfaced, with a bipartisan group trying to increase oversight over how the government conducts background investigations and awards security clearances.

Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) are introducing the Security Clearance Oversight and Reform Enhancement (SCORE) Act. Among the bill’s provisions are requirements that the government review and reform its security clearance policies and take action against contractors found to falsify background checks.

“Recent events force us to take a close look at what the federal government is doing in the name of national security and how well we are protecting classified information,” said Tester, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce. “Taxpayers are footing the bill for these programs and we need to make sure they are meeting the expectations of the American people. This bill gives investigators the tools they need to hold folks accountable and protect our national security.”

The contractor who conducted Snowden’s background check is currently under investigation.

“Performed well, the security clearance process should not only ensure our nation’s most valuable information is protected, but also ensure that we have the necessary personnel to conduct the duties we need to protect the country. Done poorly, we run the risk of damaging leaks or hamstringing our Agencies’ abilities to fulfill their missions,” said Portman.

“As we’ve seen in the recent cases of Edward Snowden and the falsification of OPM investigations, we must have an effective background investigation process,” he added. “While much attention has been paid in recent years to timeliness, this bill will bring much-needed oversight to the security clearance process in order to address many of the long-term concerns regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of this process.”

Johnson said “the process for granting security clearances across the federal government is broken.”

“In conducting oversight of the process, we learned there is no government-wide standard for granting security clearances.  We also learned that some government employees and contractors tasked with conducting background checks on those that will be entrusted with our national’s secrets have fabricated the investigations,” the senator continued. “This means that security clearances have been granted and classified information is being handled by individuals that haven’t received appropriate scrutiny.”

“The legislation instructs the Director of National Intelligence to issue such guidance across the federal government within 180 days. And, if a government employee or contractor is found to have falsified a background check, they will be terminated or debarred.  This is just common sense.”

The bill will allow the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to dip into its revolving fund to audit and investigate contractors that conduct background checks.