www.GovExec.com - GAO: Lack of security clearances jeopardizes maritime security (5/17/05)

GAO: Lack of security clearances jeopardizes maritime security

By Chris Strohm
The ability to prevent or respond to a potential terrorist attack at a U.S. seaport may be hampered because federal officials cannot communicate necessary information to local, state and private-sector officials who do not have security clearances, government auditors said Tuesday.

The major barrier hindering information sharing at seaports around the country is the lack of federal security clearances for nonfederal members of committees or centers, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report (GAO-05-394).

"Given that ports are sprawling enterprises that often cross jurisdictional boundaries, the need to share information among federal, state and local agencies is central to effective prevention and response," GAO said. "The lack of security clearances may limit the ability of state, local and industry officials - such as those involved in area maritime security committees or interagency operational centers - to deter, prevent and respond to a potential terrorist attack."

Nonfederal officials include state authorities, local port operators, and representatives of private companies.

For example, the Coast Guard has developed a list of 359 nonfederal maritime security committee participants who need clearances. By last February, however, only 28 had submitted the necessary paperwork.

"Much of the federally generated information about port security - such as assessments of specific port vulnerabilities or information about potential threats being monitored - is classified national security information and cannot be released, even to law enforcement personnel, if they have not undergone the necessary federal background checks and received a security clearance," GAO said. "Lacking access to such information, nonfederal officials may be at a disadvantage in their efforts to respond to or combat a terrorist threat."

In response to the GAO report, two House lawmakers - Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., and Tom Davis, R-Va. - introduced an amendment to the 2006 authorization bill for the Homeland Security Department. The amendment, if approved, would establish an "assistance for security clearance desk" to help state and local personnel obtain security clearances.

The ASC Desk would, among other things, provide information, assistance and guidance on the process for state and local personnel to apply for security clearances; initiate and process personnel security investigations and periodic reinvestigations; and have personnel security clearances adjudicated.

"The ASC Desk shall publish the information, assistance and guidance required ... on a government-maintained website; shall present such information, assistance and guidance in a format that is easily accessible to state and local personnel; and shall operate a live, in-person, toll-free telephone service to answer questions about the information, assistance and guidance provided," the amendment states.

www.GovExec.com - GAO: Lack of security clearances jeopardizes maritime security (5/17/05)


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