Disco is Dead?

Not only the music but the Defense Security Service, which goes by the acronym DISCO. Success in Afghanistan and Iraq may be a U.S. national-security interest, but don't tell that to the good folks at DISCO, the men and women charged with conducting basic security-clearance reviews. While DISCO says its backlogs have declined considerably, anecdotal evidence suggests they have not.

I recently heard of one case for a low-level Secret clearance in which DISCO acknowledged that the entire investigation ended four months ago, yet the file has been sitting on someone's desk for that time, waiting for final adjudication; DISCO has been unable to provide even basic updates. There simply is no excuse for such sloppiness when critical skills are needed in the field.

Certainly, there are too many clearances and bad people get them; WikiLeaks certainly demonstrated this. But on the other hand, critical jobs that the Defense Department has determined require clearances go unfilled because DISCO, at a time of war, is still living in a nine-to-five world and cannot keep up with the process. This despite the fact that in FY 2009, there was a 15 percent decline in initial investigations (and so, presumably, a lower workload). Likewise, while the Office of Personnel Management said that the average time of security clearances declined from 153 days in 2007 to 47 days in 2010, it omitted final adjudication times which, evidently, now add months to these figures.

It may be time once again for Congress to demand from the Defense Department and OPM answers about DISCO's productivity. If it takes four months to move a completed file off someone's desk, how long is it taking DISCO to do such basic things as credit and criminal-background checks, which the private sector can do in a day?

President Obama says he wants a civilian surge into the region. We can quibble at his strategy, but when it comes to national security, we should give the president the resources he needs. It would be a tragedy if we fail because a notoriously inefficient bureaucracy--one that's known primarily for being a gravy train for retired Pentagon employees--can't keep up.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.

Photo Credit: iStockphoto/Mark Evans

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