The Secret to Understanding (and Controlling) the True Cost of a Security Clearance

By Diem Vo


The federal government’s perspective of costs is typically very different from the way a commercial company sees things. For example, you don't have the same concern for shareholders’ equity, balanced against the needs to utilize retained earnings to make capital investments in plant infrastructure.

The cost calculation for the government is almost all rooted in regulatory compliance and congressional oversight controlling a limited budget with ‘colors of money’ dictated by congressional appropriations. A revenue loss in the commercial world would be nearly analogous to a congressional mark or reprogramming action against an entire agency or a program budget line item.

What Congress giveth, it taketh. This isn’t Imperial Rome, this is still the Republic!

In the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), Title III Security Clearances levied performance standards for the clearance process.

Specifically, to the extent possible, 90% of clearance requests must be adjudicated within an average of 60 days of receipt of a completed application for clearance. The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2010 further directs POTUS to submit an annual report to Congress on Security Clearance Determinations. Data from the latest published report in 2015 shows the most significant cause of delay outside of the 13 significant adjudicative events was “administrative matters.” These were agency internal performance issues unrelated to the individual being cleared.

There are two costs associated with security clearances:

  1. The actual cost of conducting the investigations and adjudications based on a OPM’s annual guidance; and
  2. The compliance cost:  that is, will Congress wield the budget mark?

How do you control these costs? Performance Optimization! Your agency can turn data into action by using data driven decisions:

  • Optimize your business processes for effectiveness and efficiency
    • Map out the processes, quantify processes, measure cycle times
    • Root out the factors absorbing your time and resource margins
  • Clarify and visualize your data
    • Make sense of trends, (forget the PowerPoint eyesores) what are the operational impacts?
    • Does the analysis help drive operational and resource allocation decisions? If not, why waste the time?
  • Prioritize your agency’s capabilities, goals and priorities
  • Execute improvement projects with teams
    • The team is core. They should be empowered to make improvements and moreover, leadership must be positioned to enforce and encourage sustainment

Once your agency hits its stride, “administrative matters” become performance issues that you can control in house. Congressional reporting shows a trend of sustained process improvement and the budget previously burned on slack time can be better programmed to accelerate excellence.

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