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Putting a big dent in the security clearance backlog

The backlog of security clearance applications is falling, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence expects standardization and other changes to lead to an even further drop in the near future.

The most recent data posted on Performance.gov pegged the number of backlogged clearances at 657,000, but ODNI's principal deputy director Susan Gordon said that number is now at 600,000. She predicted that "by the spring, with the help of the Department [of Defense], we'll be down maybe half that number."

Even with the decline, both Gordon and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) agreed, at an Oct. 30 event sponsored by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, that the backlog represents a "crisis" of national security.

Warner has been active in address the clearance process in Congress. Aspects of his bill to cut down the backlog were passed in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act. Warner said he's looking at the Intelligence Authorization Act as a vehicle to codify other improvements to the process, including reporting requirements to Congress.

"There's not controversy about these changes," he said. "Even with Congress's stellar record of getting things done, I'll put this in a much more likely than not."

Gordon said ODNI is developing a risk framework, with the help of industry, to standardize the processes, data and lexicon for how agencies approach clearing prospective employees.

"I believe by the end of the year that we will have that in place," she said. "It doesn't sound very exciting to say you're going to have investigative or adjudicative standards, but if you think about what takes the time [in the clearance process] … that is a big deal."

Warner said such standards would lend transparency to "a Balkanized system, where each agency determines what their standards are, and they feel they can't trust their sister agency to go a good job."

When it comes to accepting applicants who have already been cleared by one agency, Gordon said, "no one is more in solving the issues of reciprocity than the government side."

She also said that 20 agencies have signed up for ODNI's continuous evaluation program, and 15 more are working towards becoming part of the program. She added that continuous evaluation "should be able to replace" periodic investigations and share data in real-time. "I need to get my [human resources] processes and my security processes closer," Gordon said.

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