The continuous evaluation process is getting more attention in security clearance circles now that the Department of Defense has taken over 75 percent of the clearance workload.
Continuous evaluation is the Defense Department’s plan for efficiently processing periodic reinvestigations of those who have security clearance, Federal News Radio recently reported.
The continuous evaluation process is just like it sounds: an ongoing assessment of clearance holders, instead of reinvestigating them once every five years for top-secret clearance holders, 10 years for those with secret clearances, and 15 years for those who hold confidential clearances, said security clearance attorney Catie Young. It applies to contractors, military personnel and civilian employees.
Reinvestigations are time-consuming and contribute to the backlog of investigations that has plagued the federal government for years. The backlog grew from 190,000 cases in mid-2014 to more than 695,000 cases in November.
The Defense Department pilot tested the value and effectiveness of its Automated Continuous Evaluation System several years ago and was pleased by the results, according to the Suitability and Security Process Review released in 2014. The system sampled 3,370 Army service members, civilian employees and contractors. It identified that 21.7 percent of the tested population had previously unreported derogatory information that had developed since the last investigation. Three percent had serious derogatory information such as financial issues, domestic abuse and drug abuse that resulted in their clearances being revoked or suspended.
In addition to its own continuous evaluation system with other defense components and internal databases, the Defense Department also will opt in to the National Counterintelligence and Security Center’s system. The NCSC focuses on routinely vetting top-secret clearance holders first and then on employees with secret clearances, Bill Evanina, director of the NCSC, said in an interview with Federal News Radio.
During the continuous evaluation process, automated data checks are conducted using a variety of sources including credit checks, social media, personnel records and self-reporting records, according to the Suitability and Security Process Review. The desire is to identify relevant information that would prompt further investigation, and enable agencies to prioritize their efforts on those who appear to have the highest risk. All information that falls under the 13 National Security Adjudicative Guidelines is recorded.
The process begins when a security manager determines whether information received on a clearance holder is reportable. The manager enters the facts as an “incident” into the Joint Personnel Adjudication System, which is the Defense Department’s system for recording clearance eligibility determinations and access to classified information. From there, investigators review the whole picture, including previous incident reports. Making a final determination can take three to six months.
“Just because something is reported doesn’t mean you’ll have your clearance revoked,” Young said.
In addition to needing to implement a more efficient process, the government understands it needs a more effective one, she said.
The Suitability and Security Process Review concluded that reinvestigations failed to reevaluate cleared security clearance holders adequately or mitigate risk appropriately, according to a Bank Info Security article.
“Lengthy periods between reinvestigations do not provide sufficient means to discover derogatory information that develops following the initial adjudication,” the report stated.
Young said she is hopeful the continuous evaluation process will prove successful in identifying threats and reducing the backlog.
“The backlog costs companies a great deal in terms of lost productivity and loss of the strongest job candidates,” she said.