Contractors want to be consulted on US security clearance review

A group of workers contracted to help plant 2,000 trees in Parc National La Visite in Haiti. Photo by: Ben Edwards/USAID

U.S. President Barack Obama has some ideas about how to better manage the U.S. government’s relationships with contractors and businesses — including those implementing U.S. international development programs.

Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Beth Cobert paid a visit on Tuesday to the Professional Services Council, a trade group for U.S. government contractors, to discuss the president’s management agenda — and how it could affect government contractors — for the next two years.

Cobert’s visit came days after her boss, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, was nominated by Obama to to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services after Kathleen Sebelius resigned last Friday.

At the top of the list of changes the OMB official discussed was the ongoing effort to overhaul the U.S. government’s security clearance system, which Devex has reported on in the past.

Cobert said the interagency team led by her office is already taking steps toward implementing 13 different recommendations generated in a comprehensive review of the clearance system.

Those recommendations include better information sharing, common standards for investigations across government agencies, and shifting toward a policy of “continuous evaluation.”

Contractors want to be consulted

Continuous evaluation would require a system capable of intaking information about government employees and contractors on a continuous basis and factoring it into assessments of their clearance and employment suitability status.

That shift — from collecting information about employees every 5 or 10 years depending on their clearance levels to collecting information on a continuous basis — raises a number of questions about what kinds of information are appropriate to evaluate.

Audience members on Tuesday reminded the OMB official that the “devil is in the details,” and urged her to include consultation with the contracting community as part of her team’s implementation plan.

In response to a question, Cobert was unable to draw any conclusions about whether the security clearance overhaul would carry any additional burden for U.S. government workers or contractors serving overseas who rely on access to U.S. government data and information.

The OMB official expects the interagency team will produce and make available online its implementation plan in coming months, assured contractors her team is eager for input and said she believes the men and women who make up the contracting workforce are “no less patriotic” than their government counterparts.

See more:

In US: How will security reforms affect foreign aid workers?
USAID security clearances: Who's eligible, and how long is the wait?

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.

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