Government Accountability Office breaks tradition to name security clearance process as high risk

Image: U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson, National Security advisor McMaster, Senior Advisor Kushner and assistant for economic policy Cohn attend U.S. President Donald Trump's and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting during the WEF annual meeting in D
(L-R) U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security advisor Herbert Raymond McMaster, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner and assistant for economic policy Gary Cohn attend U.S. President Donald Trump's and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland Jan. 25, 2018.Carlos Barria / Reuters

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By Julia Ainsley

WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office on Thursday warned that the security clearance process is one of the most significant “high risks” programs in the U.S. government.

The agency was not due to update its threat list until early next year, but it broke tradition to raise its concern with the process that vets employees at government agencies who receive secret and top secret security clearances.

The announcement follows the release of a Defense Department report on Wednesday that found 165 defense contractors were able to work for years before it was discovered that they had problems in their past, such as committing a felony, that would disqualify them.

“A high-quality and timely personnel security clearance process is essential to minimize the risks of unauthorized disclosures of classified information and to help ensure that information about individuals with criminal histories or other questionable behavior is identified and assessed,” U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said in a letter released Thursday.

Recent reports from the GAO found that there is a significant backlog in the process, which allows unvetted employees to work and receive sensitive information on a provisional basis for years. The Department of Defense said their backlog is approximately 700,000 applications long.


The first step in screening a candidate for a security clearance is rudimentary, say Democratic lawmakers who have raised alarms about White House advisers. They point to Trump son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who receives presidential daily briefings but have not yet been fully cleared, according to law enforcement sources.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has pressured the White House to release information about which of its employees are serving with a provisional clearance. As the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Cummings has repeatedly asked the committee's chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to subpoena the White House for that information.