For decades, much of the federal government’s security clearance process relied on techniques that emerged in the mid-20th century.
“It’s very manual,” said Evan Lesser, president of ClearanceJobs, a website that posts jobs, news and advice for positions that involve security clearances. “Driving around in cars to meet people. This is very antiquated and takes a lot of time.”
A federal initiative launched in 2018 called for this Trusted workforce 2.0 officially introduced semi-automated evaluation of federal employees, which takes place in near real time. This program will allow the government to use artificial intelligence to subject employees who are seeking or already have security clearances to “continuous screening and assessment” — basically an ongoing assessment that is constantly taking in information, throwing red flags, and self-reporting and includes human analysis.
“Can we build a system that will screen and constantly screen someone and be aware of that person’s disposition as it exists in the legal systems and the public record systems?” said Chris Grijalva, senior technical director at Peraton, a company based on the government side of insider analysis. “And this idea gave rise to the concept of continuous evaluation.”
Such efforts have been deployed in government on a rather ad hoc basis since the 1980s. But the 2018 announcement aimed to modernize government policy, which typically reevaluates employees every five or 10 years. The motivation for adjustment in policy and practice was in part the backlog of needed research and the idea that circumstances and people change.
“That’s why subjecting people to a constant, ever-evolving process of surveillance is so compelling,” said Martha Louise Deutscher, author of Screening the System: Exposing Security Clearance Dangers. She added: “Every day you do the credit check, and every day you do the crime check – and the bank accounts, the marital status – and make sure people don’t get into these circumstances where they’re going to be at risk, if they weren’t yesterday.”
The first phase of the programme, a transition phase before full implementation, ready in the fall of 2021. In December, the US Government Accountability Office recommended that the effectiveness of the automation is evaluated (albeit not continuously).