For decades, much of the federal government’s security clearance process relied on techniques that emerged in the mid-20th century.
“It’s very textbook,” said Evan Lesser, president of ClearanceJobs, a website posting jobs, news and advice for positions that involve security clearances. “Driving in the car to meet people. It’s very outdated and time consuming.
A federal initiative launched in 2018 called Trusted Workforce 2.0 officially introduced semi-automated federal employee analytics that occurs near real-time. This program will allow the government to use artificial intelligence to subject employees who seek or already have security clearances to “continuous monitoring and evaluation” – essentially, continuous evaluation that constantly takes in information, throws red flags and includes self-reporting and human analysis.
“Can we build a system that verifies someone and continues to verify them and is aware of that person’s disposition as it exists in legal systems and public record systems on an ongoing basis?” said Chris Grijalva, senior technical director at Peraton, a firm that focuses on the government side of insider analysis. “And from that idea came the notion of continuous assessments.”
Those efforts had been used in government on a more ad hoc basis since the 1980s. But the 2018 announcement aimed to modernize government policies, which typically reassess employees every five or ten years. The motivation for adjusting policies and practices was, in part, the backlog of required investigations and the idea that circumstances and people change.
“That’s why it’s so imperative to keep people under some sort of constant, ever-changing surveillance process,” said Martha Louise Deutscher, author of the book “Screening the System: Exposing Security Clearance Dangers.” She added that “every day you will run the credit check, and every day you will run the criminal check – and the bank accounts, the marital status – and you will make sure that people don’t end up in these circumstances where they become a risk if they weren’t yesterday.
The first phase of the program, a transition period before full implementation, ended in the fall of 2021. In December, the US Government Accountability Office recommended that the effectiveness of the automation be evaluated (but not , you know, continuously).