How Many People Have Security Clearances?

12.14.10 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

How many government employees and contractors hold security clearances for access to classified information?  Remarkably, it is not possible to answer that question today with any precision. But it should be possible by next February, officials said at a House Intelligence Subcommittee hearing on December 1.

Currently there is no precise tally of the number of cleared persons, and there is no way to produce one, said John Fitzpatrick, Director of the ODNI Special Security Center.

“We can find definitively if any individual has a clearance at any one point in time,” he told Rep. Anna Eshoo, the subcommittee chair.  But “to take that point in time and define the number of all the people that do takes a manipulation of data in databases that weren’t intended to do that.”

“To give a precise [answer] requires, I think, due diligence in the way we collect that data and the way that data changes.”  And in fact, “we have a special data collection to provide a definitive answer on that in the February 2011 IRTPA report,” referring to an upcoming report required under the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

In the meantime, Mr. Fitzpatrick said, “To give a ballpark number [of total security clearances] is not difficult.”

Well then, Rep. Eshoo asked, “What would a ballpark figure today be?”

“Oh, I’d like to take that one for the record,” Mr. Fitzpatrick replied. “It’s — you know, I’d give you — I’d like to take that one for the record.”

Based on prior reporting by the Government Accountability Office, the ballpark figure that we use is 2.5 million cleared persons.  (“More Than 2.4 Million Hold Security Clearances,” Secrecy News, July 29, 2009).