Those who say that the United States government has grown too large and gotten out of control were handed one more fact to put in their quiver of criticism. A new report says that the U.S. has allowed 5.1 million government employees to have secret security clearances.
The Washington Post reports that the 5.1 million figure of operatives with security clearances has grown from the 2012 figure of 4.9 million. The numbers come from a report by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that also says that about 60 percent of those operatives had near-immediate access to secret government data.
In comparison, the 5.1 million figure represents a greater number of people than the entire population of Norway, Ireland, or New Zealand, and nearly as many as live in such countries as Denmark and Finland.
OMB estimates that the government spent up to $5.9 billion on security background checks to make sure that employees who were awarded secret clearances qualified for that privilege. Alarmingly, many thousands of those clearances have expired, though those employees still have access to classified information.
“The most recent data show that roughly 22 percent of the population eligible for access to classified information at the TS or TS/SCI level was outdated, and no reinvestigation had been requested,” OMB writes.
Despite the billions spent on background checks, too many have slipped through the cracks and gotten secret clearances when they should not have. To name a few, intel leaker Edward Snowden, Navy Yard killer Aaron Alexis, and Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, a convicted terrorist who was hired as an Obamacare navigator in Illinois, all passed background checks.
The preposterous hike in orders for background checks has also led one of the government’s biggest contractors to begin cutting corners in the process. In October of last year, the Justice Department began an investigation of the private background checking firm USIS. The investigation revealed that the company maximized profits by improperly billing the government for checks it never made.
In February of this year, the DOJ accused USIS of faking up to 665,000 background checks and billing as if they had been completed.
USIS is the same company responsible for vetting Edward Snowden and Navy Yard murderer Aaron Alexis.
And what are some of these government employees doing with their secret security clearances? It was reported last year that NSA officers were using their powers to spy on their fellow citizens and to track their girlfriends and neighbors who posed no national security threats.
Facts like this tend to buttress the arguments of those who say that government has too many armed employees, too much secrecy, and far too much power.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.