Faking Background Checks for Security Clearances
What do you do if you have too many background checks to do, and not enough time to do them? You fake them, of course:
Eight current and former security clearance investigators say they have been pressured to work faster and take on crushing workloads in recent years, as the government tried to eliminate a backlog that once topped 531,000 cases.
Investigators have eliminated that backlog, but they now are trying to meet congressionally mandated deadlines to speed up the security clearance process. The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act requires agencies to issue at least 80 percent of initial security clearances within 120 days after receiving a completed application. This December, agencies must issue at least 90 percent of their initial security clearances within 60 days.
“This job is a shredder, and agents are grist for the mill,” said K.C. Smith, an OPM investigator in Austin, Texas, with 23 years of experience. “There are people who are getting sick, under a lot of stress, their family life is suffering. They are just beat down.”
Investigators say it is common practice to spend nights, weekends and holidays writing up reports, and some don’t report the overtime they work for fear it will be held against them in their performance evaluations.
Some say their superiors have made it clear that the priority is to close cases, and they say they have felt pressure to turn in even incomplete cases that lack crucial interviews or records if it will help them keep their numbers up. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that the Defense Department’s security clearance process is plagued by such incomplete cases: 87 percent of the 3,500 initial top-secret security clearance cases Defense approved last year were missing at least one interview or important record.
It’s all a matter of incentives. The investigators were rewarded for completing investigations, not for doing them well.