DoD Cut Security Clearances by 15% in Last Two Years

03.26.15 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In a significant retrenchment of the national security bureaucracy, the Department of Defense has reduced the number of employees and contractors who hold security clearances in the past two years by more than 700,000 persons, a cut of 15% in the total security-cleared population in DoD. The previously undisclosed reductions were reported in data provided by DoD to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

This is the first documented drop in the overall number of security clearances since FY 2010, when the systematic collection of statistical data on clearances began, and it is probably the first major decline in the number of cleared personnel since 9/11.

Most of the new reductions involved persons who had been investigated and deemed “eligible” (or “cleared”) for access to classified information but who did not have or need such access in fact. But a sizable 117,000 persons who were “in access” (i.e. who actually did have access to classified information) were also dropped from the clearance rolls between FY 2013 and FY 2015, according to the new statistics.

A 2014 report from the Office of Management and Budget recommended reductions in the cleared population since the “growth in the number of clearance-holders increases costs and exposes classified national security information, often at very sensitive levels, to an increasingly large population.” A cut in clearances may also lead indirectly to reduced production of classified information.

In the first quarter of FY 2015, following the new reductions, there were 3.9 million DoD personnel (employees and contractors) with security clearances, down from 4.6 million in FY 2013, for a drop of 15.3%. The total number of clearance holders government-wide is about 0.5 million higher than the DoD figure.

The new data were disclosed last week in the latest quarterly report on implementation of the Insider Threat Program.

The data also indicated that the backlog of Top Secret/SCI clearance holders whose periodic reinvestigations were overdue (or “out of scope”) had been reduced by 63,000. However, there are still 356,000 TS/SCI clearance holders that remain “out of scope” and in need of an updated reinvestigation, according to the DoD data.

A new annual report to Congress on security clearances government-wide (including non-DoD agencies) “is in its final stages, but not yet ready for release,” said a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It will be made available next month, he said. Last year’s annual report is here.