The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (“ODNI”) has released its 2014 Report on Security Clearance Determinations. According to the Report, nearly 640,000 fewer people held security clearances at the end of fiscal year 2014 than the previous year, representing a decrease of approximately 12 percent.
The majority of the reductions involved individuals categorized as “Eligible (Not in access)”, meaning individuals who are eligible for access to classified information, but may not have actual access until the need arises; the Report explains that many of these are in the military or in support of the military and may require immediate ability to have access as needed. At the end of fiscal year 2014, there were approximately 470,000 fewer individuals in the “Eligible (Not in access)” category as compared to the previous year, representing a decrease of approximately 30 percent. In contrast, the number of “Eligible (In access)” clearances decreased by approximately 165,000, representing a 5 percent decrease. As explained in the Report, “these decreases were the result of efforts across the [United States Government] to review and validate whether an employee or contractor still requires access to classified information.”
The concerted effort to scale back the number of cleared employees and contractors is, in part, a response to Edward Snowden’s theft of classified information from the National Security Agency (“NSA”) and the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C. Both incidents occurred in 2013 and involved mis-use of classified access by contract personnel. These incidents, among others, led the Obama Administration to order a government-wide reassessment of how security clearances have been granted and whether each individual identified as eligible for access to classified information still requires eligibility.
The Government also scaled back the number of security clearance approvals by approximately 14 percent in fiscal year 2014. The Report does not distinguish between approvals for initial clearances and reinvestigations of existing clearances, but the implication of the reduction is that it has become more difficult to acquire and retain a security clearance than it was in the past.
Of the major intelligence agencies, the NSA reported the highest denial rate of initial applications at 9.2 percent, followed by the National Reconnaissance Office at 7.4% denials. While the Report showed the FBI with the lowest rate of denials at 0.1 percent, the Report also points out that the FBI, and certain other agencies, may discontinue security processing due to automatic disqualifiers found during a suitability review before the case reaches the security clearance adjudication phase.
The percentage of revocations resulting from adjudications of periodic reinvestigations ranged from 0.1 to 2.2 percent, with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency having the highest percentage.
The Report also provides information on the processing timeliness of the various intelligence community agencies. For Top Secret level clearances, the processing time ranged from approximately two weeks to 7.5 months. For Confidential and Secret level clearances, the processing time ranged from approximately one month to six months. The NSA and CIA reported the highest numbers of security clearance determinations that required more than a year to complete. For both agencies, the majority of cases delayed more than one year involved government contractors.