Secrecy News

DNI Orders Security Clearance “Reciprocity”

One of the most vexatious aspects of the system of granting security clearances for access to classified information has been the reluctance of some government agencies to recognize the validity of clearances approved by other agencies, and to require new investigations and adjudications of previously cleared personnel.

A new directive from the Director of National Intelligence seeks to finally resolve this longstanding problem by mandating “reciprocity,” or mutual acceptance of security clearances issued by other agencies. See Reciprocity of Background Investigations and National Security Adjudications, Security Executive Agent Directive 7, November 9, 2018.

With certain exceptions, “Agencies shall accept national security eligibility adjudications conducted by an authorized adjudicative agency at the same or higher level,” DNI Daniel R. Coats wrote.

“Background investigations and national security eligibility adjudications, conducted by an authorized investigative agency or authorized adjudicative agency, respectively, shall be reciprocally accepted for all covered individuals,” again with certain exceptions.

In most cases, cleared personnel would not be required to fill out a new security clearance questionnaire or to undergo a new background investigation in order for their clearances to be recognized and accepted by another agency.

(Reciprocity refers to mutual recognition by agencies of an individual’s eligibility for access to classified information. Whether the individual also has the requisite “need to know” the information requires a separate determination.)

Security clearance reciprocity is an elusive policy goal that has been pursued since the Clinton Administration, if not longer.

A 2004 study by the Defense Personnel Research Center investigated the failure to fully implement reciprocity at that time and attributed it to issues of “turf and trust.”

“Virtually all respondents agreed that beneath the lack of complete reciprocity there is a certain lack of trust based on fear.” See Security Clearance Reciprocity: A Progress Report, PERSEREC, April 2004.

A new bill introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) would require reporting on the number of individuals whose clearances take more than 2 weeks to be reciprocally recognized after they move to a new agency or department. See “Vice Chairman Warner Introduces Legislation to Revamp Security Clearance Process,” news release, December 6.