Total Number of Security Clearances Still Unknown

05.27.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The precise number of persons who hold security clearances for access to classified information was supposed to be reported to Congress by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for the first time in February 2011.  But that total number, which is believed to be around 2.5 million, remains elusive and it still has not been provided.

At a December 1, 2010 hearing of a House Intelligence Subcommittee, John Fitzpatrick, director of the ODNI Special Security Center, told Rep. Anna Eshoo that the precise number of clearances would be revealed early this year.

“We have a special data collection to provide a definitive answer on that in the February 2011 IRTPA report,” he said, referring to a report required under the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.  (“How Many People Have Security Clearances?”, Secrecy News, December 14, 2010).

But when the February 2011 IRTPA report (pdf) was publicly released this month, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the promised number was not included.

It seems that compiling an accurate and complete figure for all security clearances is more challenging and time-consuming than had been anticipated.  An ODNI spokesman said that the number will still be provided, but it will be transmitted in a different report pursuant to the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2010 (section 367), which specifically required disclosure of the total number of clearances.

“The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2010, which was signed into law in October, includes new Executive Branch accounting requirements for the collection and reporting on the aggregate number of security clearances held, and we continue to keep Congress informed on the status of these reports,” the ODNI spokesman told Secrecy News.

A copy of the report on the number of security clearances is said to be in draft form.

The new IRTPA report, meanwhile, states that “the government has continued to show a significant improvement in security clearance processing times.”  The average processing time for an initial clearance was 79 days in FY 2010, down from 86 days in FY 2009.  For the fastest 90% of initial security clearances, processing time was down to an average of 53 days, the report said.