Sunday, April 25, 2010

Personnel Security Clearances

In the first Bush administration FEMA was wracked with tension over the granting and withdrawal of personnel security clearances. Both the Human Resources staff and the Personnel Security staff were largely untrained and inexpert in the administration of the system required by Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations and Executive Order 10450. The latter dated from President Eisenhower's decision to allow the head of each Executive Branch organization to be the final arbiter of who got or did not get a clearance and who would lose their clearance. Ducking the responsibility he vested authority in the head of each department or agency. This decision was precipitated by the case of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, PhD physicist who is largely credited with being key to development of the atomic bomb. Lewis Strauss, a non-technical person who then headed the AEC ordered an administrative hearing that resulted in Dr. Oppenheimer losing certain clearances, but not all. The MSM thinks he was totally denied access to sensitive classified information which is incorrect. This old Executive Order badly needs updating. What many don't understand is that personnel security is a two step process. First the collection of personal background information, looking for derogatory information, and then second adjudication of that information to determine the granting or withdrawal of a clearance. Oddly government contract employees get a full adjudicatory hearing while civil servants do not.
Back to FEMA! The controversy in FEMA arose over giving gays and lesbians security clearances. A so-called Blue Ribbon panel was named to investigate the process and culture in FEMA. Their report is available at the following URL and I strongly urge all involved in the business of granting, denying or holding a clearance to read it.

The URL is as follows:

Trefry Report—

I also highly recommend the book "Secrecy" by deceased US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.