In the days since a gunman killed 12 people at the Navy Yard complex in Washington, D.C., Congress, the Obama administration, the media, and the public have been loudly questioning why–despite warning signs like gun-related arrests and mental illness–Aaron Alexis was able to maintain his secret-level clearance as part of his job with a subcontractor to Hewlett Packard.
At a press conference yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed the troubling holes in the system, saying “We will find those gaps and we will fix those gaps.”
Of particular concern is Alexis’ contractor status. The director of the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis Peter Daly said in an AP story published yesterday that the military needs to review its procedures for granting contractor access to installations.
We need to look at how these clearances are granted to contractors and subcontractors and to make sure once someone is granted clearance, that we come back and check again.
In a letter to Office of Personnel Management Inspector General Patrick E. McFarland, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) expressed similar concerns, requesting a full review of the security-clearance background investigation for the shooter. They list five specific questions, including “whether OPM’s Federal Investigative Services or one of its contractors performed Mr. Alexis’ background investigations.”
The answer to that question will be extremely telling, but either way, the sheer number of contractors who have high-level clearances is concerning. In 2012, 4.9 million federal workers and contractors had security clearances and 1.4 million of those were top-secret. The abundance of “Classified” and “Top Secret” designations means more and more workers need to be granted secret clearance just to do their work.