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By Ethan Barton
Auditors couldn’t figure out how long it takes the Department of State to process security clearances nor how much background investigations cost because of errors in agency reporting, a government watchdog reported Friday.
The State Department’s Inspector General (IG) reviewed security clearance reports from 2012 through 2016 and found so many errors that the watchdog determined it was “impossible” to tell how long it actually takes to process a clearance. The agency’s reports are estimated, rather than actual investigation lengths.
Additionally, the State Department “has not analyzed how much it spends on its clearance investigations,” the report said. Meanwhile, an executive order requires agencies to ensure security clearance investigations are cost efficient.
The State Department is developing a cost model, officials told the IG.
The department also “failed to seek payment for overseas investigatory work performed for other agencies, potentially costing the department millions of dollars in lost reimbursements,” the report said.
The State Department “began billing other agencies in 2016,” but relied on prices the Office of Personnel Management developed, since the department doesn’t know the actual costs.
The State Department processed more than 63,000 new secret and top secret clearances and about 2,700 transfer clearances between 2012 and 2016. Secret clearances took an average of 129 days to process, and top secret clearances took 158 days on average, according to the State Department.
But department data is incorrect in many respects,” the report said. “Some of the issues OIG identified may result in an underestimation of the timeframes for clearance completion” and “others may result in an overestimation.”
The inaccuracies include a reliance on estimates, rather than actual timeframes and inconsistencies in agency data.
The State Department also uses two systems to track investigation lengths, but they report different data for the same clearance. One investigation for a secret clearance, for example, took 42 to complete, according to one database, but took 98 days according to another.
The State Department has faced other problems with its security clearance process, particularly surrounding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her top aides.
Clinton, for example, never completed security briefings or courses on handling classified material or using secure communications, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported. The State Department couldn’t produce any documentation that Clinton or her aides took mandatory security courses in response to a DCNF law suit.