WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) questioned witnesses during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence open hearing on the security clearance process for both government and industry alike. Senator Heinrich raised concerns about the rules governing interim Top Secret/ Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearances, an issue that came to light following the departure of White House aide Rob Porter because of his record of domestic abuse against his former wives, and the downgrading of senior adviser Jared Kushner's security clearance last week from top secret to secret.
During Senator Heinrich’s questioning, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) witness concurred that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence needs to pay closer attention to the issuance of such interim TS/SCI clearances. Senator Heinrich pressed the GAO witness on the process to flag those who are issued interim clearances to ensure that their clearances are automatically reviewed when that temporary access time has expired.
Senator Heinrich joined a group of senators in writing a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray to raise concerns regarding the Trump administration’s handling of classified information last month.
During the hearing yesterday, Senator Heinrich also asked the witnesses whether an approach taken by the National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB) at New Mexico’s National Labs – where NBIB has deployed dedicated teams in a “surge” to work through some of the most time-sensitive clearance investigations – should be applied more broadly. On a later panel, the NBIB Director noted that this “surge” approach has been used at eight or nine federal facilities over the past year, and shows promise as a way to bring down the clearance backlogs at particular sites. One of the biggest obstacles to recruitment at DOE defense labs continues to be the long wait times for security clearances. The rate of hiring at the two NNSA labs in New Mexico is about 1,000 per year, and wait times for clearances are averaging well over a year.
A list of witnesses and testimony, and the archived webcast of today's hearing will be available here.