At the dawn of former President Donald Trump’s administration, government employees and contractors in need of security clearances could wait years for approval. Federal agencies stared down a backlog of 700,000 clearance investigations starting in 2017.
For one former senior-level State Department employee, who is a person of color, they waited more than two years to get approved for a top secret clearance.
When the Trump administration arrived, many new Trump officials received “interim security clearances” because they didn’t initially meet standard security requirements, the former employee told Raw Story. This contributed to a screening backlog.
“With Trump it was a mixture of business with foreign governments, a lot of internal exchanges or engagements that needed more explanation, so there were a lot of outstanding issues that needed further explanation, and it just didn’t happen,” said the former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to employment concerns.
But it wasn’t just clearing Trump’s appointees that created the delays — not even close. Problems started in the years prior and continued on in subsequent years, according to national security experts. Among them: the ending of a contract with a background investigations company, USIS, and the 2015 cybersecurity breach of the Office of Personnel Management, which compromised the background investigation records of more than 20 million federal employees and contractors.
That backlog was largely responsible for prompting the need for a multi-agency reform effort around personnel vetting, dubbed Trusted Workforce 2.0, and the related policy changes intended to streamline investigative processes, said Viet Tran, a spokesperson for Office of Personnel Management.
Around that time, in 2018, the Government Accountability Office first put the personnel vetting process on its “high-risk” list of areas of the government in urgent need of transformation or susceptible to waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.
The reasons: IT system issues, a lack of performance evaluation throughout the process and slow processing times, said Alissa Czyz, director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office.
Five years later, personnel challenges remain in the security clearance process, along with technological issues in terms of tracking and vetting cleared personnel, Raw Story revealed in its three-part “Losing Track” investigation. (Read Part I and Part II here.)