Secrecy News

Security-Cleared Population Drops by 10%

The number of people who hold security clearances for access to classified information has been reduced by ten percent, the White House said in budget request documents released this week.

“The Administration achieved its objective to reduce the total number of security-cleared individuals by 10 percent,” according to the White House/OMB budget request (at p. 51).

The security-cleared population has grown steadily for several years, with 5.1 million people eligible for classified access, according to the latest data from October 2013.

Taking the new ten percent reduction into account, the total number of cleared individuals should now be around 4.6 million. The actual figure is not available for public release, said Eugene Barlow, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But he said it will be presented in April in the next annual report on security clearances, as required by the FY2010 intelligence authorization act.

The security clearance system naturally becomes harder to manage — and more expensive — as it becomes larger.

A 2014 report from the Office of Management and Budget said that periodic reinvestigations had not been performed as required for around 22 percent of the people that hold that hold Top Secret or TS/SCI clearances. “This backlog poses unacceptable risk, leaving the U.S. Government potentially uninformed as to behavior that poses a security or counterintelligence concern.”

Executive branch agencies spent $1.6 Billion on the security clearance system in 2012. A background investigation for a Top Secret clearance cost an average of $3,959 each, according to OMB.

The new ten percent reduction in clearances “will allow agencies to better deploy resources to priority activities, such as completing periodic investigations for the most sensitive populations,” the White House said.

In 2013, the Director of National Intelligence (who also serves as “Security Executive Agent”) wrote to executive branch agencies directing them to validate the clearance requirement for each currently cleared individual. This validation process produced the desired reduction in clearances. A copy of the DNI’s letter to agencies is not available for public release, Mr. Barlow of ODNI said.