Report: Sensitive information at risk; long delays in DOJ security process

The Justice Department has significant delays in its security clearance process and can't guarantee that only approved officials have access to sensitive information, according to a new report issued by the DOJ's inspector general.

The DOJ's security clearance process for agency officials — including those in the FBI and DEA — is slow and inadequate, according to a 112-page IG report released on Thursday.

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The report noted that some intelligence positions within the department are left vacant for long periods of time because of delays in the security clearance process that partly arise from the tedious process of verifying an employee’s foreign contacts or resolving outstanding credit issues.

All of the agencies examined in the report — including the FBI, the DEA and the Bureau of Prisons, among others — told the IG that they would be taking immediate steps to make the security clearance process faster and more effective.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires agencies to grant 90 percent of their National Security Information clearances within an average of 60 days.

But only 31 percent of the DOJ’s security clearance approvals were completed by the required 60-day deadline, while the majority of the background and security checks — 61 percent — took somewhere between 61 and 180 days to finish. A small amount — 7.4 percent — were dragged beyond that, however, and reached completion between 181 days and 365 days after they were initiated.

“Clearances for certain key positions in the department such as agents, intelligence analysts and linguists also consistently take longer than 60 days to process,” states the IG report. “As a result, these positions may go unfilled for extended periods because those persons generally cannot start work until their background adjudications have been completed.”

The IG report also found that DOJ’s oversight of the security clearance process “was insufficient to identify security violations and enforce security policy.”

“The tracking of data on the status of employee background investigations, clearance levels and reinvestigations was inconsistent and often incomplete,” the report states. “The lack of information makes it difficult to ensure that only individuals with the appropriate clearance level have access to sensitive and classified information.”

While the IG’s report does not allege that any security breaches or sensitive information leaks occurred as a result of the DOJ’s policies, the independent findings may raise questions on Capitol Hill in the wake of a recent series of leaks that caused lawmakers, military officials and federal law enforcement to condemn such acts.