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Slipping Through the Cracks: How the D.C. Navy Yard Shooting Exposes Flaws in the Federal Security Clearance Process

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2014
45 pages
After identifying and analyzing how the Federal security clearance process failed to "red flag" Aaron Alexis (the shooter who murdered 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard in September 2013) as a security risk, this report by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform discusses potential remedial legislative measures.
The report documents how Aaron Alexis was able to receive and maintain his security clearance, which gave him access to Washington Naval Yard facilities, despite a number of instances of questionable conduct that should have been reported through background investigations. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the Federal Government's clearinghouse for background investigations for security clearance for non-intelligence community personnel. OPM did not include information on Alexis' aggressive and reckless behavior with guns or symptoms of mental illness in the background investigative file sent to the Navy. One section of this report describes OPM's tightly controlled Federal security clearance process and some of the challenges this process faces. Attention is given to how a background investigation is initiated, the type of field work conducted during an investigation, and how it was that multiple people working on a single background investigation of Aaron Alexis never communicated with each other about what they had found. Although OPM performs quality reviews of background investigations, the Government Accountability Office has determined that 87 percent of OPM's background-investigation files are "incomplete." This report advises that recent technologies and the rise of social media enable background investigations to encompass even more information about applicants while allowing investigations to be completed in a timely manner. OPM is not using updated technology in background investigations. Legislation is needed to ensure that relevant information is sent to the proper authorities in a timely manner. 237 notes