More than a year after President Clinton took office, 15 White House aides, including press secretary Dee Dee Myers and another unidentified senior official, have yet to receive security clearances because they failed to complete necessary paperwork, administration officials said.
As a result, Myers and the other aides have not received permanent White House passes and are operating on "temporary passes."
Those passes are given new employees to allow White House access until FBI background checks are completed. Once checks are made, the White House counsel's office clears employees and the Secret Service determines if they should be given permanent White House access.
"Frankly, I have been continually reminded and nagged by security personnel to get this done and I just haven't done it," said Myers when asked this week. "There are no excuses. I should have done it and I just kept putting it off and didn't do it."
Myers added that she completed paperwork yesterday and expects to get her permanent White House pass soon.
Although the number of aides operating without security clearances is small compared with the approximately 1,000 persons with regular White House access, failure of senior aides to receive security clearances has prompted concern at the Secret Service, officials said.
A senior administration official confirmed there had been "complaints" from the Secret Service about the slowness of some White House officials to provide needed background information and to "be disciplined in getting this stuff done." The problem has been eased in the last few months, the official said.
The issue has also prompted concerns on Capitol Hill in large part because aides without clearances potentially have access to large volumes of classified information. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who serves on a House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the White House, recently wrote Clinton about the matter, saying the issue was "even more critical" in light of security lapses revealed by the Aldrich H. Ames spy case.
"I believe this is a situation of grave concern now that we are a year into your administration," Wolf wrote. "In previous administrations, these matters were usually handled within the first few months."
Wolf said his staff had confirmed that until last week White House aides without clearances included Patsy L. Thomasson, director of the White House office of administration, which operates the White House computer system. Officials would not identify the other senior official. They said the aide did not work "in the national security orbit."
Administration officials said yesterday only two or three persons of the 15 without permanent clearance were longtime White House workers. The rest were more recent, with some only a few weeks in their jobs.
One official said the White House gives a leeway of up to three months on personnel before it considers applications overdue. Of the 15 lacking passes, "only a handful are seriously overdue," the official said.
It is the responsibility of White House associate counsel William Kennedy to handle clearance procedures. The White House came under criticism last year for issuing passes to Clinton friends and political associates, but most of those have now expired.
The passes allow free access throughout the White House compound and absolve the holders from security precautions such as passing through metal detectors and having cars and bags searched.
Staff writer Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.