The Justice Department has failed to meet the required 60-day guideline for processing background checks for new employees who require national security clearances and, as a result, some key positions within the department — including agents, intelligence analysts and linguists — go unfilled for extended periods, a new report said Thursday.
The department’s Office of Inspector General, in a 112-page report, also noted that the time to complete background checks for so-called “public trust” personnel increased 92 percent from 99 to 190 days. It said Public Trust employees are permitted to start work under a waiver while their cases are processed. As a result, the report said, they routinely have access to sensitive information and systems for significant periods of time without completed background investigations.
Those in positions that require access to classified information are granted national security clearances at the top secret, secret or confidential level. Those who do not require access to classified information but who may be involved in policymaking, major program responsibility or other sensitive roles are typically considered to be in Public Trust positions.
For both national security and public trust positions, the report said, the department’s oversight of the background-check 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, it said. The lack of information made it difficult to ensure that only persons with the appropriate clearance had access to sensitive and classified information, the report said.
Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said the Justice Department, as a whole, did not meet the statutory timeliness guidelines for national security clearances and, for public trust cases, the time for completion nearly doubled during the period of his review. Further, he said, the department’s tracking of such personnel security processing was not sufficient to enforce its own policies.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) requires agencies authorized to grant national security clearances to complete at least 90 percent of the background check within an average of 60 days. Investigations for public trust positions are not subject to the IRTPA time guideline; rather they are covered by regulations that require the adjudications to be completed and determinations reported within 90 days. The background investigations are conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The report noted that more than 60 percent of the national security background checks took between 61 and 180 days to complete. It said the processing times for some public trust cases exceeded the new employee’s one-year probationary period. It took more than a year to complete the background investigations of 70 of the 2,463 public trust positions reviewed. The report said if derogatory information is not uncovered during the one-year probationary period, employees are granted permanent status.
“If a background investigation then uncovers derogatory information, and the department seeks to discharge the employee, that employee has the full appeal rights of permanent employees,” the report said.