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Kaine, Warner Question Shutdown of Security Clearance System

Virginia's senators are asking Archuleta about security clearances. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Virginia's Senate delegation wants answers about the shutdown of an Office of Personnel Management system for handling security clearances.  

A significant number of constituents of Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner either work for the federal government or as contractors in positions that require valid security clearances to do their jobs.  

"We write today to express concern with the recent announcement by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that it has temporarily shut down the e-QIP website that facilitates processing of background investigations. While we applaud the appropriate caution OPM has employed to address potential vulnerabilities with the e-QIP system, we also believe the agency must do more to ensure that day-to-day operations proceed in the professional and expeditious manner we should expect from the federal agency responsible for personnel matters," Kaine and Warner wrote in their latest letter to OPM chief Katherine Archuleta. "In addition, we urge that OPM do all it can to not exacerbate processing backlogs that are currently in place."  

Archuleta announced Monday that as a result of a security vulnerability in the e-QIP system, it would be taken offline for upgrades to prevent a breach to that part of the OPM infrastructure.  

"The security of OPM's networks remains my top priority as we continue the work outlined in my IT Strategic Plan, including the continuing implementation of modern security controls," Archuleta said in a statement. "This proactive, temporary suspension of the e-QIP system will ensure our network is as secure as possible for the sensitive data with which OPM is entrusted."  

The full text of Wednesday's letter from Kaine and Warner appears below:

Dear Director Archuleta: We write today to express concern with the recent announcement by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that it has temporarily shut down the e-QIP website that facilitates processing of background investigations. While we applaud the appropriate caution OPM has employed to address potential vulnerabilities with the e-QIP system, we also believe the agency must do more to ensure that day-to-day operations proceed in the professional and expeditious manner we should expect from the federal agency responsible for personnel matters. In addition, we urge that OPM do all it can to not exacerbate processing backlogs that are currently in place. OPM reports that 20,000 to 30,000 background checks are submitted to Federal Investigative Services every week, while at the same time acknowledging that they already have a backlog in processing these submissions. With the e-QIP system now reportedly down for at least four to six weeks, it will cause significant disruption to the process through which information is submitted to allow OPM to process security clearances. Although the time that e-QIP is offline will allow OPM to address the current backlog, that down time will also mean additional submissions will continue to pile up, exacerbating the problem when e-QIP is brought back online. Although OPM has noted that it is working on alternative measures to address this looming crisis, it has failed to provide any detail as to its strategy that will give adequate assurance to the thousands of Virginians who depend on having proper security credentials in place to do their jobs. We therefore ask for a response to the following questions: 1. What is the current backlog for security clearances, and what measure thus far have been used to address that backlog? 2. How will the e-QIP system’s deactivation affect the current backlog? 3. What specific plans has OPM developed for alternative processing while e-QIP is deactivated? 4. What resources does OPM need to address this issue? As you know, security clearances are vitally important to the federal and defense contracting workforce in Virginia. When they cannot be processed in a timely manner, it creates a ripple effect that has numerous consequences for our country’s national security and for Virginia’s workforce. We look forward to a timely response to this letter and hearing an action plan from your agency to address this pressing issue. Thank you for your attention to this issue.
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Topics: policy gops