[ISN] The Long and Winding Road to Security Clearance

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Wed Jun 19 2002 - 01:34:57 PDT

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    By Gail Repsher Emery
    Washington Technology Staff Writer
    Thursday, March 28, 2002; 12:00 AM 
    The road to a personal security clearance is a six to 18-month 
    journey. Here's what it takes:
    * A government contractor or federal agency manager determines an 
      employee needs access to classified information. 
    * The employee fills out the security investigation form, usually 
      Standard Form 86, which asks for a host of personal information and 
      references. The employee is fingerprinted and signs a form allowing 
      the agency's investigators to access his or her personal records. 
    * The form is sent to a personnel investigation center. An 
      investigator, either a federal employee or a private contractor, 
      conducts interviews and checks police, financial and employment 
      records, among others. Typically, the investigator conducts records 
      checks and interviews references dating back seven to 10 years. 
    * The investigation results are sent to an adjudication facility, 
      where a federal employee evaluates the results using established 
      guidelines to determine eligibility for access to classified 
      material. The clearance is granted or denied. 
    * Individuals must undergo a re-evaluation of their status every five 
      years for top-secret clearances and 10 years for secret clearances. 
    Private-Facility Clearance
    The road to a private-facility security clearance is a journey of 
    about four months.
    * In order to get a personal security clearance, an individual's 
      business operation must first obtain a facility security clearance. 
      The headquarters office must be cleared before any branch offices. 
      The Defense Security Service issues facility clearances for the Department 
      of Defense and 22 other agencies.
    * A letter of sponsorship must be sent to the Defense Industrial 
      Security Clearance Office in Columbus, Ohio, from a federal agency, 
      or from a cleared prime contractor on behalf of a subcontractor. The 
      letter details the level of classification the facility's employees 
      require access to, and whether the information must be stored at the 
      private facility.
    * DISCO makes sure the company isn't already cleared or debarred from 
      federal contracting.
    * A DSS field industrial security representative identifies key 
      company officials who must receive personal security clearances in 
      connection with the facility clearance. The representative analyzes 
      the company's foreign interests and also meets with the facility's 
      security office to ensure the office has a viable security program. 
    * The facility receives a Contract Security Classification 
      Specification from its customer, which provides the security 
      requirements and classification guidance needed for performance of a 
      classified contract. 
    * DSS conducts oversight visits annually for facilities storing 
      classified information, and every 18 months for other cleared 
    Common Misperceptions
    One misperception about the security clearance process is that an
    applicant should hide information from investigators that could
    jeopardize his or her case.
    "It's best to be open and honest with us and state all the facts and
    let the investigation takes its course. It's a lot better than trying
    to hide something," said Tom Thompson, director of the Defense
    Security Service personnel security investigations program. Applicants
    can be disqualified for a clearance if their deception is discovered.
    Post-Sept. 11 Delays in Clearance Processing
    Despite ongoing efforts to improve the clearance process, applicants
    are unlikely to see a dramatic drop in the time it takes -- six to 18
    months on average -- because caseloads are growing in response to the
    war in Afghanistan and the domestic war on terrorism, federal agency
    officials said.
    "The proliferation of IT is going to be one driver ... and all of the
    military actions going on in the Middle East will drive our immediate
    requirements up. We know that it is going to get busier because the
    services have told us their needs are increasing," said Tom Thompson,
    director of the Defense Security Service personnel security
    investigations program. The Alexandria, Va., Defense Department agency
    conducts investigations for the military services and military
    contractors. DSS expects its 1,100 investigative agents and other
    personnel to handle about 600,000 applications in fiscal 2003,
    Thompson said.
    The most time-consuming investigation comes before issuing a
    top-secret clearance to an individual for the first time, Thompson
    said. It's also the most expensive, at $2,447 to conduct, according to
    DSS estimates. The investigator is required to check records and
    references that go back seven to 10 years or more. Even if the
    applicant supplies records such as college transcripts, the
    investigator probably has to retrieve those records as well. And,
    Thompson said, "we have to go out and interview all your references --
    anywhere you've worked, neighbors, and we interview you. There is a
    lot of legwork."
    Speeding Up the Process
    The cumbersome security clearance process should speed up considerably
    under a new government initiative to move the process online. The
    Office of Personnel Management leads the e-clearance effort, part of
    the enterprise human resources e-government initiative, one of 24
    government-wide e-government programs.
    More misperceptions:
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