Lynch Introduces Bill to Reform Security Clearance Process

Feb 10, 2014

Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, the top Democrat on the Federal Workforce Subcommittee, today introduced comprehensive legislation to reform the security clearance process by which the federal government determines whether an individual is eligible to access classified national security information.  The Security Clearance Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4022) will better ensure that the security clearance process is defined by an efficient and high quality background check system, continuous federal oversight of issued security clearances, and maximum information-sharing between federal agencies and state and local law enforcement.  H.R. 4022 is cosponsored by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee.  

The tragic shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in September of 2013 and other recent events involving government security clearances have again highlighted the need to implement comprehensive security clearance reform. As reported by the Washington Post, Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis applied for a security clearance in 2007 after enlisting as a full-time reservist in the U.S. Navy but without disclosing a 2004 arrest in Seattle, Washington, on a firearms-related offense.  While USIS, the federal contractor responsible for performing Alexis’s background check, discovered this prior charge, Navy officials have stated that the precise nature of the Seattle arrest was not included in Alexis’s investigative file. Importantly, the background investigator was unable to obtain a copy of the police report from the Seattle Police Department and information available on the courts database did not include details of the arrest.  As a result, Alexis was granted a security clearance in 2008. Despite additional arrests in Georgia and Texas in 2010, Alexis retained his security clearance following his discharge from the Navy in 2011 and worked as a defense contractor at military installations, including the Washington Navy Yard.

“The federal government's current background investigation process does not pick up events that arise in the interim period between a cleared individual's initial investigation and periodic reinvestigation, which in Alexis’s case would not have occurred until 2017,” said Congressman Lynch.  “A review of the Aaron Alexis case reveals significant lapses in our security clearance process, including a deficiency in the ability to get criminal history information from state and local jurisdictions and a lack of continuous evaluation of security clearances that have already been issued,” said Congressman Lynch. “H.R. 4022 would implement a continuous evaluation and monitoring system across the federal government so that we can immediately identify and address significant red flags that arise in a security clearance holder’s background.”

Most recently, the Department of Justice filed a breach of contract and false claims complaint against USIS, which handles almost 50% of background check investigations that the Office of Personnel Management assigns to contractors.  According to the complaint, “beginning in at least March 2008 and continuing through at least September 2012, USIS management devised and executed a scheme to deliberately circumvent contractually required quality reviews of completed background investigations in order to increase the company’s revenues and profits.”  In particular, the Department of Justice alleges that then-USIS senior management directed and engaged in the practice of “dumping” or “flushing” of cases which were released to the Office of Personnel Management without the quality review required by its federal government contract.  While falsely representing that the company had performed these reviews, USIS allegedly “dumped” or “flushed” at least 665,000 background investigations which constituted 40% of the total number of investigations conducted by the company during this 4-1/2 year period.

“In light of these allegations regarding extended waste, fraud, and abuse in security clearance contracting, it is imperative that we bring key background investigative work back into the federal government,” said Congressman Lynch. “My legislation will ensure that federal employees, rather than outside contractors, perform critical investigative functions, including Top Secret Clearance level investigations.”

In particular, the Security Clearance Reform Act of 2014 would require the President, within 6 months of enactment, to submit a strategic plan to Congress to improve security clearance and background investigation activities conducted by the federal government.  Specifically, the plan must include the development of a continuous evaluation and monitoring system through which government agencies may access and receive real-time updates of critical information, including arrest records, currency transactions, and terrorist and criminal watch list reports, relevant to security clearance background investigations.  In addition, the plan must contain guidance on improving information-sharing by state and local agencies with the federal government as well as proposed methods for streamlining and eliminating outdated manual investigative processes in favor of electronic and accessible investigative databases.  Moreover, the plan must require the in-sourcing of key background investigative functions in order to ensure that only federal employees, rather than outside contractors, are conducting quality reviews of Top Secret-level investigations and subject interviews.   H.R. 4022 would require implementation of this strategic plan within 1 year of its submission to Congress.

As Ranking Member of the Federal Workforce Subcommittee, Congressman Lynch will also participate in a hearing held by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee entitled “DC Navy Yard Shooting: Fixing the Security Clearance Process.”  The hearing is scheduled for February 11th at 10:00am in room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.