Government watchdog adds security clearance process to ‘high risk list'

Government watchdog adds security clearance process to ‘high risk list'
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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is adding the federal security screening process to its “high risk list" of government procedures in need of significant reform. 

The decision, announced Thursday morning, comes after revelations about the government awarding security clearances to individuals with criminal backgrounds and suspicious financial dealings.

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GAO comptroller general Gene Dodaro positioned the decision as an effort to limit unauthorized leaks of classified information and to weed out individuals with criminal histories or questionable backgrounds.

The announcement came one day after the Defense Department released a report showing that the government revoked security clearances of 165 defense contractors last year, many whom further investigations showed had “pre-existing issues” that initial checks had not picked up. 

The way in which the federal government vets individuals to handle sensitive government data has long attracted scrutiny from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, particularly as a result of the significant case backlog and lack of transparency surrounding the process.

As of September, the federal government faced a 700,000-case backlog across agencies and departments.

The government’s screening process has also attracted scrutiny as a result of high-profile leaks of classified information. Last June, a pair of bipartisan senators pressed the Office of Personnel Management for details about the handling of the security clearance for Reality Winner, a government contractor accused of leaking classified files to a news outlet.

More recently, the process has attracted attention from Democrats amid reports that Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerJudge delivers second blow to Trump over financial records Tillerson meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee Trump adviser expected to leave White House, join Juul MORE, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE’s senior adviser and son-in-law, is still operating with an interim clearance.

“A high-quality and timely personnel security clearance process is essential to minimize the risks of unauthorized disclosures of classified information and to help ensure that information about individuals with criminal histories or other questionable behavior is identified and assessed,” Dodaro said in a statement. 

“Our objective for the High Risk List is to bring attention to policymakers of the need for action sooner, rather than later,” Dodaro said. “Renewed and strong top leadership commitment will be critical to facilitate progress in reducing the backlog and completing key improvements to the personnel security clearance process.”

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenators offer bipartisan bill to help US firms remove Huawei equipment from networks DOJ plans to show Senate Intel less-redacted Mueller report, filing shows Bipartisan House bill calls for strategy to protect 5G networks from foreign threats MORE (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the move demonstrates that the current system is “broken.”

“It is a disservice to the people who support critical national security functions, and it is a disservice to the American people,” Warner said in a statement. “We can and should reform the clearance process by making use of new technologies and information sources.”