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State Workers Question System's Worth

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By Daniel Pulliam May 18, 2007

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A group of former and current State Department employees is calling into question the merits of an award-winning computer system designed to speed up the process of conducting security clearances, calling it "garbage in, garbage out."

The Concerned Foreign Service Officers, a group formed in 2005 by State Department employees who are concerned about abuses of the security clearance process, issued a press release Friday questioning the recognition that the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security has received for developing a computer system that decreases the time it takes to issue security clearances. The security-clearance process has strained under an increased demand since 9/11, with the backlog of security clearances remaining at more than 100,000 and taking more than a year to complete.

State Department employee Donald Reid "recently received an IT Leadership Award from Government Computer News, for innovation in the use of automation to facilitate the security clearance process," according to the press release. The security clearance system also received the Guardian Award from the Office of Personnel Management, according to the press release.

The Concerned Foreign Service Officers group agrees the system is an undeniable improvement over the paper-based system and reduces the time necessary to gather information for security clearance adjudications, but:

It is important to understand that the speed of information gathering is the ... least important aspect of the security clearance process. Two other aspects are considerably more important: the quality of investigative reports and the quality of adjudications. Like medicine or science, a security clearance adjudication is a qualitative function. To focus on the speed of the process is a bit like focusing on speed of intake, rather than diagnostic or treatment abilities, in a hospital.

In its press release, Concerned Foreign Service Officers congratulate the Bureau of Diplomatic Security on increasing the speed of its security clearance process, but "we only lament that the primary result of this improvement is that DS now makes bad determinations faster."

The State Department public affairs office declined to comment.

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