Tangling with the Clearance Monsters

Posted December 2nd, 2008 by

Another pair of client agencies, another pair of clearance forms to fill out….

Want to talk about fraud, waste, and abuse?  I’m in my mid-30’s (not ~85 like Alex and Mortman think I should be) and I’ve gone through the clearance process about 3 times a year since 2002 (and once in 1992 and once in 1996), mostly because each agency insists on having their own clearance requirements.

So let’s look at the economics of managing clearances at the agency level, I figure I’m a pretty average when it comes to this:

  • ~2 days of filling out SF-86 and other clearance forms 16 hours x $150 = $800
  • ~1 day for fingerprinting and corrections 8 hours x $150 = $400
  • Salaries for cleared personnel = +$15K over “market value” (yes, dear readers, that has become the market value)
  • 3 clearance runs/year for contractors $1200 billable hours x 3 times/year = 3600/year
  • All this times a bazillion contractors supporting the Government
  • ~2 months before somebody can actually be given any information that they can actually use to do the job.

The “Who Moved my Personnel Security Cheese?” Problem

This is the real crux of the problem: every agency thinks that they are special–that Commerce has a different level of a need for trustworthy people than Health and Human Services.  We have a phrase for how we’re managing clearances right now: Not Invented Here.

News flash: trustworthy people are trustworthy people and dirtballs are dirtballs.  Honestly, what can the civilian agencies require that trumps  what having a Department of Defense Top Secret clearance can’t?  What we need is an esperanto for clearances.  My opinion is that DoD should trump all, but I’m obviously biased.  =)

Oh, but here’s the keystone to this argument:  all of the clearance processing (forms, background checks, investigations, and fingerprints) is done by the exact same people: Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Clearance 12 Feet 4 Inches photo by Beige Alert.

Don’t get me wrong, life is not all gloom and doom.  OPM has this wonderful website now with the clearance forms called Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP).  The best part: it remembers your details so you don’t have to fill them out every time.  Clearance paperwork has now become as simple as updating your contact information and job details on a social networking site.  And it does validation of your filing information so that you don’t have a different way of doing things from agency to agency.

Benefits of Centrally-Managed Universal Clearances

Why am I arguing for managing clearances centrally?  Well, I’m both a taxpayer and a contractor.  This is my line of thought:

  • Cheaper because of reduces redundancy (object lesson on the Federal Enterprise Architecture)
  • Reduces “switch costs” for throwing out one contractor in favor of another. (heh, bring me in instead)
  • Quicker onboarding for both govies and contractors
  • More career options for cleared personnel
  • Unified standard of accep
  • Helps us get to one unified Government ID card (ack, HSPD-12)
  • It’s just plain smarter Government!

Deus Ex Barry O?

Oh yeah, it’s Presidential transition time.  This means that everybody with an opinion comes out of the woodwork with their expert analysis on what the Government should do.  While we’re throwing ideas around, I would like to throw my hat in the ring with just a couple:

  1. Appoint an executive-branch CIO and CISO. (already covered that)
  2. Fix the clearance process so that there’s one authoritative set of clearances that apply everywhere.

Problem as I see it is that left to their own devices, the agencies have to “roll their own” because as downstream consumers of OPM, they don’t have a unifying standard.  As much as I hate getting mandates from OMB, this might be one that I’m willing to support.  And yes, I probably crossed some sort of political threshold somewhere along the line….

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Posted in Rants, What Doesn't Work | 6 Comments »

6 Responses

  1.  Cecil Avery, CISO, CISM Says:


  2.  rybolov Says:

    Hi Cecil, thanks for the comment and the link.

    Yes, I know there’s an OMB policy, but I have yet to see any kind of reprocicity practiced between agencies. In the perfect little world that I envision, there is one standard clearance that applies Government-wide. =)

  3.  John Curran Says:

    IRTPA was supposed to address reciprocity and centralize clearance processing to the extent feasible, but it’s exact implementation is subject to interpretation by individual agencies. The House Intelligence Committee Report (20 Nov 2008) in the link above does a very good job summarizing the IRTPA goals, the results achieved to date, the most significant barriers in centralizing clearance processing, and finally identifies a number of areas where additional guidance and/or metrics will help the government reach the original IRPTA intent.
    Highly recommended reaching on this topic.


  4.  John Curran Says:


  5.  The Intern Says:

    The clearance process, while necessary, needs a serious overhaul.

    And not to be a pedantic jerk, but your math is a bit off in the first section.

  6.  rybolov Says:

    @The Intern
    Hey, I went to public school in Idaho, I’m lucky I know maths at all. =)

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