Female senators unite behind security-clearance proposal

October 30, 2013

Four female senators on Wednesday plan to introduce bipartisan legislation that would increase the frequency of background checks on federal employees and contractors, according to a congressional aide.

The proposal, backed by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Heidi Heitcamp (D-N.D.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), would require at least two random audits over a five-year period for every security clearance, according to Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley.

Current policy requires follow-up background checks every five, 10 or 15 years, depending on the level of authorization.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to examine government background checks and clearances after the deadly shooting rampage by a civilian defense employee at the Washington Navy Yard in September.

The proposed legislation stands as the latest example of bipartisan cooperation among the Senate’s female members. Just before the recent 16-day government shutdown, a group of Senate lawmakers led by women tried one last shot at forging ahead with spending negotiations.

That action during the height of budgeting gridlock prompted Time magazine to conclude that “the only place the old boys’ network seems to function anymore is among the four Republicans and 16 Democrats who happen to be women.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is among the female senators who plan to introduce the security-clearance bill on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh).
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is among the female senators who plan to introduce the security-clearance bill on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh).

McCaskill, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees federal-contractor issues, has pressed in recent months to address concerns about clearances after the leaks last summer by National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden and the Navy Yard shooting.

In July, McCaskill co-signed a bipartisan letter to the comptroller of the Government Accountability Office requesting that he examine screening processes and how agencies can improve them. That month, she also co-sponsored legislation that would allow the Office of Personnel Management to audit and investigate the federal contractors who conduct background checks, in addition to imposing stiff penalties for those who falsify reports.

The company that cleared Snowden is under investigation for allegedly misleading the government about the thoroughness of its background checks, according to a report from The Post.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook, or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks · October 29, 2013