Personnel security clearances, vetting processes designated as ‘high risk,’ watchdog reports

The Government Accountability Office found that data for personnel security clearance determinations was inconsistent and incomplete.
(GAO photo)

The Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence do not have adequate data for assessing government security clearances and other vetting processes, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Monday. 

In its investigation, GAO found that data about vetting determinations or “reciprocity” — which allows for federal workers to transfer to different agencies without a new background check — was inconsistent and incomplete, presenting a high risk. The watchdog said that 2 out of 5 agencies “did not report required data to ODNI on the frequency which they determined individuals were ineligible for reciprocity,” and agencies responded that they sometimes reported data from the agency level and other times by component. 

“Contractors reported that agencies did not provide updates when the security clearance reciprocity process was delayed,” the report states. “If ODNI develops and implements a plan to ensure that contractors are informed about the status of reciprocity determinations, contractors may be able to plan projects and hire personnel better, which could have positive effects on government contracts.”

GAO reported that both contractors and agencies face reciprocity challenges, such as information technology system gaps and lack of access, ineffective and sparse communication, missing information and lack of trust. If both OPM and ODNI mitigated these challenges, among others, agencies “may be able to grant reciprocity more often and more quickly.”


ODNI specifically would be able to improve its oversight of this process if it followed best practices for testing data reliability, GAO said, giving the example of “tracing a sample of data records to or from source documents” to evaluate if the information is accurate and complete.

The watchdog offered eight recommendations for ODNI and OPM to implement for remedying these concerns, which included a suggestion to develop a plan to ensure that IT systems contain “complete and accurate” information. 

OPM concurred with the recommendations and offered a response, stating that it “is developing jointly with ODNI additional policy guidance for personnel vetting management that will be addressed to personnel vetting program practitioners at federal agencies. This policy will establish requirements for Executive Branch personnel vetting programs to apply sound risk management practices to assess the trustworthiness of individuals who work for or on behalf of the federal government. With this policy, the executive agents can provide specific requirements for departments and agencies with respect to information sharing and can reemphasize the requirement for timely and accurate reporting.”

ODNI did not provide formal comments on the recommendations, according to GAO.

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