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Security Clearance Backlog

Hundreds of thousands of Government background checks necessary for clearance often take more than a year, according to a survey by ClearanceJobs.com, a web site that posts jobs requiring government clearance.

A proliferation of jobs requiring clearance in the post 9/l1 era, many of them involving civilian employees of government contractors who had never received clearance, created a backlog of clearance applications.

Depending on the level of security clearance sought, a background check can involve probes into an applicant's criminal, employment and credit history, citizenship or immigration status, current and former residency, and interviews with family members and even neighbors.

Clearance is typically required for jobs at security agencies like the FBI and CIA, the military, or for security-related positions with other agencies or at private companies with government contract.

The Department of Defense was particularly hard hit by the problem, according to a Congressional report. The resulting labor shortage costs taxpayers additional dollars in higher wages commanded by the limited number of highly sought after workers with active clearance, said Evan Lesser, ClearanceJobs.com's managing director. Apart from the higher wage costs, the shortage can also mean some security-related jobs go unfilled, Lesser and others say.

"It's a supply and demand thing," said the chief operating officer of a technology company in the Washington, D.C. area, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the company relies on government contracts. "You just don't have enough people with clearance."

The problem has been tracked by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, which also believes the situation is improving. Last winter, the GAO removed the Department of Defense Personnel Security Clearance Program from its list of government operations at high risk of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.

"Serious delays in processing security clearances prompted GAO to first designate this program," the GAO stated. "High-level attention by DOD, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, along with sustained congressional oversight, played a key role in spurring progress."

ClearanceJobs.com based the report on a survey of cleared workers found that the average wait time was four months, while 8 percent of workers waited more than a year for clearance. Even so, the ClearanceJobs.com report said wait times have improved "markedly" since 2005, due largely to the addition of staff at federal agencies including the Office of Personnel Management, which conducts most of the background checks, Lesser said A backlog of more than 500,000 workers awaiting clearance in 2005 is now below 400,000.

Source: the Star Ledger, Steve Strunsky, 7/29/11