Correction to This Article
A May 17 Business article misstated the amount of funding that allowed the Pentagon's Defense Security Service to resume the processing of security clearances. The amount was $28 million, not $23 million.

Processing of Security-Clearance Requests Resumes

By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Pentagon yesterday partially lifted a suspension of its security-clearance program that had put thousands of government contractors' employees in limbo.

The Defense Security Service suspended the program three weeks ago, blaming overwhelming demand and a more than $100 million budget shortfall. The halt spurred immediate concern from surprised company executives, who complained that the suspension would exacerbate an already lengthy wait to obtain a security clearance and make it more difficult to hire employees capable of doing the government's most secret work.

The agency found enough money -- $23 million -- to begin processing secret-level security clearances again but will need $90 million more before it can resume processing top-secret clearances or renewing existing clearances, said agency spokeswoman Cindy McGovern. Secret-level clearances cost $156 to process, while top-secret ones cost $3,700.

The partial revival of the program will address fewer than half of the 4,800 clearance requests filed with the DSS since the suspension began, she said.

Demand for security clearances spiked after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as the government increasingly relied on contractors to do some of its most secret work. The agency received 69,519 security-clearance requests for contractors in 2000, which more than doubled to 142,615 by 2005. In the first six months of this fiscal year, the agency has received 103,590 requests.

Government contractors have been increasingly frustrated that requests often take more than a year, sometimes two, to process. To lure employees who already have a security clearance, firms have offered $25,000 bonuses and given away luxury vehicles.

The partial lifting of the suspension came a day before Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, planned to hold a hearing on the issue.

"We're glad they've opened it up a little bit," said Rob White, spokesman for the committee. But he added that "we're still looking for good, solid, long-term answers" to the larger problem and to add some stability to the process.

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