The ouster of White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter after allegations of domestic abuse highlighted another persistent issue in the Trump administration when it was revealed that Porter had been working without a permanent security clearance that would allow him to rightfully access the highly classified materials that are routinely circulated amongst top administration officials.
The fact is that a year into the Trump presidency there are approximately 40 political appointees at the White House operating without full security clearance, including most notably the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to a report on CNN.
The large number of staff working under interim clearances is being attributed by White House to the extensive review process conducted by the FBI and the administration’s own Security Office.
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Intelligence officials who are familiar with the process through their experience with previous administrations, however, see the backlog of clearances at this late date as highly unusual, saying that the process should have been completed by now.
While White House spokesman Raj Shah was asked yesterday why so many security reviews had yet to be completed, he demurred, responding that he wasn’t authorized to discuss the specifics of the process.
According to CNN, however;
“One current and one former US official said the backlog could indicate that there are remaining questions or obstacles from the intelligence community and law enforcement conducting the review.”
Some of Trump’s defenders have attributed the delay to the fact that the President has brought so many people on board with no previous government experience. While that may explain the lack of competence in the administration, it also means that research for the clearances takes longer since there are no existing files to update as there are for employees who have had to undergo the processes in earlier government jobs.
The other factor slowing down security clearances boils down to that question of competence, with multiple errors in filling out the required paperwork impeding the completion of background checks.
CNN cites Charles Phalen, the director of the National Background Investigations Bureau, as telling Congress that he has “never seen that level of mistakes” when he was asked about the numerous omissions in Jared Kushner’s security clearance application.
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office shows that there is a backlog of over 700,000 security clearance investigations pending throughout the government.
Jamil N. Jaffer, a former associate counsel to President George W. Bush and the founder of the National Security Institute at George Mason University Law School thinks that the problem has gotten out of hand.
“At the end of the day, if we are going to solve this problem, we are going to have to fix the way we issue clearances, by both getting faster and better at the process of vetting and clearing people, or ultimately denying people clearances and moving them on to other opportunities, but the current challenge cannot go unaddressed for much longer,” he said.
One has to wonder how a top official like Kushner who is trusted to handle highly sensitive matters on behalf of the government can continue to be allowed to access classified information without the benefit of a full security clearance after more than a year in his job.