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Good News: Security Clearance Checks Under Way Again… On Paper

It would appear our government has learned the timeless truth that paper records, for all of their many disadvantages, cannot be hacked.

The Washington Post reports that security clearances, disastrously compromised by the hacker attack on the Office of Personnel Management, will once again be processed using old-fashioned dead-tree paperwork:

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and personnel chief Katherine Archuleta issued “interim procedures” for federal agencies to begin vetting new employees hired to sensitive jobs that require clearances.

“Recognizing the impact of the system being down on both users and agencies, OPM has, in agreement with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, implemented a set of interim procedures to address agencies’ requirements and reduce the likelihood of interruptions in the on-boarding of employees while prudently minimizing any security risks,” OPM spokesman Sam Schumach said in a statement.

OPM abruptly shut down the system Monday, saying a “vulnerability” was discovered in the wake of a massive cyberattack on the agency that potentially exposed the security clearance database and the personnel files of at least 4.2 million current and former federal employees.

Prominent contracting groups and members of Congress had widely criticized the shutdown, saying it would cripple a system already beset by long delays.

It’s probably better for the clearance system to be crippled by long delays, rather than turned against American national security by foreign espionage agents. Employees will now experience the joy of filling out those 130-page clearance requests on paper and filing hardcopies. Hopefully modern electronic copy machines can still be used to create multiple copies of each dossier, instead of regressing to hand-cranked mimeograph machines.

The downgrade decision quickly drew some sharp criticism:

Also this week, the Senate delegation from Virginia, which is home to thousands of federal employees and contractors with sensitive jobs, in a letter to Archuleta, criticized the shutdown of the e-QIP system, which provides a secure Web site for applicants to answer questionnaires.

“While we applaud the appropriate caution OPM has employed to address potential vulnerabilities with the e-QIP system, we also believe the agency must do more to ensure that day-to-day operations proceed in the professional and expeditious manner we should expect from the federal agency responsible for personnel matters,” Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats, wrote.

Senators Kaine and Warner should join the rest of us in expecting very, very little in the way of “professional and expeditious” performance from our titanic central government, which is still proceeding as if the OPM hack was nobody’s fault.

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