Will the Government Change Which Office Oversees Security Data Storage?

Katherine Archuleta resigned in July as the Office of Personnel Management’s director, but still the war to protect security clearance wages.

Recently Reps. Ted Lieu and Steve Russell joined forces to ask President Barack Obama’s administration to remove sensitive security clearance information from OPM computers and store it somewhere safer, according to The Daily Caller website.

This request came out of concern over the agency’s “failure to address known vulnerabilities” and the fact that Chinese hackers were able to access personal information of about 20 million government employees and federal contractors who have applied for and/or obtained security clearance as part of their job duties. The OPM automates much of the processing of standard investigative forms through the web-based Electronic Questionnaires For Investigations Processing system, or e-QIP for short. Security clearance applicants often use e-QIP to complete SF-86 forms.

Stolen information, despite OPM’s claim that ” e-QIP allows you to electronically enter, update, and transmit your personal investigative data over a secure internet connection to a requesting agency”, included SF-86 background forms and Social Security Numbers of nearly 20 million people, numerous usernames and passwords to access e-QIP, as well as more than 1 million fingerprints according to SC Magazine, a publication geared toward IT security professionals.

The argument posed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is that OPM is “neither an intelligence agency nor a defense organization,” which makes it unsuited for protecting such sensitive information.

The lawmakers said it isn’t appropriate for an agency that wasn’t designed with a national security focus to be responsible for protecting sensitive data, The Daily Caller article states. They also pushed for the modernization of the SF-86 to protect data from 21st-century cyber threats. In their letter to Obama, the representatives requested a review of what data is stored, and what is necessary on the “antiquated” SF-86 forms.

It has been recommended that the Suitability and Security Clearance Performance Accountability Council find a new location to store the data. The council is reviewing the government’s information security policies.

Lieu, a California Democrat, and Russell, an Oklahoma Republican, are working on a bill to make the change, according to an article in The Hill.

What does this mean for those who are applying for security clearance? Nothing right now, says Catie Young, a security clearance lawyer. But the hope is that any changes to the manner in which security clearance data is stored would mean that sensitive information included on SF-86 forms would be safe from hackers.

We will continue to follow this story and provide updates as we learn more.