[Congressional Record Volume 159, Number 153 (Wednesday, October 30, 2013)]
[Pages S7675-S7682]


      By Ms. COLLINS (for herself, Mrs. McCaskill, Ms. Ayotte, and Ms. 
  S. 1618. A bill to enhance the Office of Personnel Management 
background check system for the granting, denial, or revocation of 
security clearances or access to classified information of employees 
and contractors of the Federal Government; to the Committee on Homeland 
Security and Governmental Affairs.
  Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, today, Senator McCaskill, Senator Ayotte, 
Senator Heitkamp, and I are introducing the Enhanced Security Clearance 
Act of 2013, which would strengthen our process for allowing federal 
employees and other individuals to have access to classified 
information. We must improve our current security clearance process to 
prevent, as much as possible, future incidents such as the murders at 
the Washington Navy Yard. Our bill directs OPM to institute at least 
two audits of every security clearance at random times during each 
five-year period the clearance is active. Any red flags raised would 
then be reported back to the employing agency to determine if a re-
investigation of the clearance is needed.
  As a former Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and 
Governmental Affairs Committee, the issue of background investigations 
as it relates to security clearances is an issue with which I am well 
acquainted. There needs to be a balance between processing of 
clearances quickly enough to allow individuals to do their jobs, but 
also thoroughly enough to flag potential problems.
  Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, and several high-profile 
espionage cases, heightened national security concerns underscored the 
need for a timely, high-quality personnel security clearance process. 
In the early part of this decade, the Department of Defense processed 
hundreds of thousands of security clearance background investigation 
requests--both initial and re-clearances, for service members, 
government employees, and industry personnel who were conducting 
classified work for the government. The timeliness of DOD's security 
clearance process was a problem which, when coupled with an increased 
demand for security clearances, had led to a backlog of more than 
500,000 investigations.
  Delays in updating overdue clearances for command, agency, and 
industry personnel performing classified government work increased 
risks to national security and the costs of doing classified government 
work. This led GAO to designate the DOD clearance program as a high-
risk area, and in 2005 for DOD to transfer its personnel security 
function and about 1,600 personnel to OPM. At the time, this change 
seemed a logical step in addressing the problems caused by the backlog. 
And by 2008 OPM had eliminated the backlog and announced end-to-end 
electronic processing of background investigations. Now, OPM oversees 
approximately 90 percent of all background investigations for security 
clearances with the assistance of private sector contractors.
  Although we have made significant advances in the processing of 
background checks, there is still a gaping hole in the current security 
clearance process that has enabled people who exhibit obvious signs of 
high-risk behavior to remain undetected. We have seen this time and 
time again in incidents like Edward Snowden's disclosure of stolen 
classified information, and most recently we have Aaron Alexis, the 
Navy Yard shooter with apparently severe mental illness.
  Once an individual is cleared, the process of maintaining the 
clearance requires a reinvestigation at various points in time based 
upon the type of clearance. These ``gaps'' between clearance and re-
clearance can be 5, 10 or even 15 years, and most of the data is self-
reported by the individuals themselves. These periods of time pose a 
significant concern in the current clearance process. OPM has 
announced, in some cases, that it is going to reduce the time frame 
down to one year, but this is not the case for all clearances. People's 
lives may change dramatically over these gaps of time, which poses 
significant and unnecessary security risks.
  The United States issues approximately 5 million clearances to 
government employees and contractors, and the ongoing review process is 
conducted manually, by a limited number of investigators. Further, the 
manual process is flawed. The OPM Inspector General recently reviewed 
18 investigators and found disturbing abuses in the quality of 
clearance investigations they conducted, which included interviews that 
never occurred, answers to questions that were never asked, and record 
checks that were never conducted. Even if done properly, however, given 
the limited number of investigative agents in the field, it is not 
feasible to manually track nearly five million clearances effectively.
  For example, in fiscal year 2010, fewer than one percent of all 
contractors with clearances filed an incident report, despite the fact 
that they are required to file these reports on a wide variety of 
events including marital status change, excessive financial hardship, 
and criminal activity, to maintain their clearance. Generally, such 
events occur in the lives of more than half of the U.S. population 
during the same time periods. The fact is, cleared personnel under-
report lifestyle changes, allegiance changes, and derogatory 
information for fear of job loss, embarrassment, and, most important, 
the discovery of nefarious intent. Further, because the system relies 
on self-reported data, the chances of someone getting caught are 
minimal. Between 1997 and 2013, of the civilian clearances issued, 
fewer than one percent were revoked. This can mean that the people who 
are cleared very seldom-go bad, that cleared individuals are not self-
reporting changes in their lives, or the current process is not 
detecting everything.
  In 2004, I sponsored the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention 
Act, which became law in December of that year. This law allows for the 
use of advanced technology and third party databases to expedite, 
verify, and enhance the investigative and adjudicative process. The 
government needs to utilize existing solutions, which are already used 
by law enforcement, to automate random audits on individuals with 
active security clearances.
  If random audits had been in place after Aaron Alexis's secret 
clearance was granted in 2007, red flags would have been generated with 
his arrest in 2009 and the two liens on his property, which could 
indicate potential excessive financial hardship. Further, it may have 
identified a potential alias with a vast social media trail indicating 
other concerning traits. The alerts generated would have prompted OPM 
to notify DOD, which would have provoked a reevaluation before Alexis's 
2017 re-clearance. This re-evaluation could have discovered that he 
openly discussed ``hearing voices,'' a clear sign of his mental 
illness. A random audit would have alerted OPM of these new issues and 
potentially averted tragedy.
  The OPM Background Investigation process must be capable of flagging 
high-risk individuals holding clearances and alert case officers of 
situations requiring review before any adverse consequence takes place. 
The current process, however, is dated, but the system can be 
strengthened to better help the government identify these dangerous 
individuals. OPM must address the blind spots that exist in the current 
manual security clearance review process. The shooting tragedies at the 
Washington Navy Yard, along with the information security breaches 
perpetrated by Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, have demonstrated 
that the current security clearance process is inadequate.
  This legislation has been endorsed by the Federal Managers 
Association; the FBI Agents Association; the Alcohol-Tobacco-Firearms 
and Explosives Association; The International Association of Chiefs of 
Police; The International Federation of Professional and Technical 
Engineers, AFL-CIO & CLC; The National Native American Law Enforcement 
Association; TechAmerica; General Dynamics Information Technologies; 
LexisNexis; Lt. Gen. Charles

[[Page S7678]]

J. Cunningham Jr., Former Director of the Defense Security Service, 
1999-2002; Brian Stafford, Former Director of the United States Secret 
Service, 1999-2003; Howard Safir, Former Police Commissioner of New 
York City, 1996-2000; Floyd Clarke, Former Director of the Federal 
Bureau of Investigation, 1993; and Michael Sullivan, Former Acting 
Director of the ATF, 2006-2009, and US Attorney for the District of 
Massachusetts, 2001-2009.
  We must act now. Our legislation represents a sensible path forward 
to protect national security and to help prevent future tragedies. I 
urge my colleagues to support this common sense solution.