Pentagon's Case Control Management System not Y2k compliant : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Pentagon will push ahead with flawed background check system

Wednesday, 16 February 2000 19:22 (ET)

Pentagon will push ahead with flawed background check system


WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The Pentagon intends to debug a deeply flawed $100 million computer system that was supposed to speed and ease security clearances at a potential cost of $100 million to $300 million, according to Defense Department officials and General Accounting Office estimates.

Fixing the system is just one of the many ways the Defense Security Service, which conducts security background checks on Defense Department employees and contractors who work with secret information, intends on cleaning house. The agency was the subject of a scathing GAO report last fall. According to the report, more than half a million people are waiting months for clearances. At the same time an estimated 16 percent of the clearances granted may have disregarded troubling financial and personal information about high-risk applicants, and more than 90 percent were incomplete.

According to the GAO, about 80 percent of those who commit espionage do so for financial gain, yet a number of security clearance investigations that turned up major outstanding debts or bills in arrears were not followed up on, and the clearances were granted without question. Not only does sloppy work potentially compromise national security, it can be expensive, according to the report.

According to Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., while DSS clearances languished, a group of the Pentagon's top contractors were forced to keep 3,247 people on their payrolls without being allowed to let them work on the sensitive programs for which they were hired. The bill, according to Shays, was $143 million. The charges were passed on to the Pentagon in contract costs.

Ironically, DSS was supposed to be an innovative "laboratory" for streamlining and improving operations in the Defense Department. Instead, the management and policy reforms it made between 1996 and 1998, including the switch to an expensive computerized security clearance questionnaire, were the very things that tripped it up, the agency head told Congress Wednesday.

"It was very much a management breakdown," admitted retired Lt. Gen. Charles Cunningham, director of the Defense Security Service.

In 1995, the Pentagon put a quota on how many security clearances would be given out that year, instantly creating a waiting list, or back log, Cunningham said. At the same time, the number of investigators DSS and other agencies in the Pentagon were allowed to have was cut by 40 percent. This was an attempt to streamline a perceived bloated headquarters operation.

"In fact, a substantive part of the backlog was caused by workforce reductions," Cunningham told the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, veterans affairs and international relations.

In an effort to compensate for the smaller cadre of investigators, DSS ordered an automated system, the Case Control Management System. The agency had never managed such a large acquisition program before. None of its workers were skilled in information technology. The result was an expensive disaster, Cunningham said.

"It was turned on in October 1998," he said. "It barely functioned at all for the first six weeks" and threw the agency into "turbulence."

DSS was using both its old paper system as well as the malfunctioning new one, creating management chaos and adding to its growing backlog. The managers who preceded Cunningham then made a controversial decision, and one that led to the GAO audit released in October documenting incomplete and poorly managed background checks: It relaxed both its standards and quality controls for its investigations.

The result, says Cunningham, was that there was an "unachievable task" to be accomplished, the workforce was demoralized, their training was reduced and there was a great fear of awarding contracts outside the agency.

"The growing backlog becomes a metaphor for the problem," he said.

Since assuming command of the agency in June 1999, Cunningham has improved training, re-established standards, added investigators and is working on speeding the time it takes to get a security clearance. And despite two gloomy reviews of the computer system that lent itself to DSS' troubles, Cunningham is poised to recommend to Defense Secretary William Cohen that the computer system be repaired and put in place, according to Caryl Clubb, chief of public and congressional affairs for DSS.

"He believes it's fixable," she told United Press International, "we are not going to scrap it."

An internal Pentagon team and contractor TRW both assessed CCMS and found it deeply flawed.

"They both said it could be fixed but it would be tough," Clubb said.

The General Accounting Office estimates that effort, including making CCMS Year 2000 compliant, will cost an additional $100 million, and more if the system, once functioning, proves to be inadequate to the task.

It was not operationally tested in accordance with Defense Department rules and may not work at all, GAO states. A new one may have to be developed or procured, adding to the cost.

Source: Virtual New York, United Press International

-- Lee Maloney (, February 18, 2000


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-- Lee Maloney (, February 18, 2000.

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