Officials told to rethink security clearance system

The government is breaching its own guidelines on recruiting for security-cleared roles, as departments and agencies flout the best-practice because they want to fill sensitive posts more quickly, a new report says.

Official guidance from the Cabinet Office, which was recently updated, states a candidate should not be expected to hold a valid security clearance to apply for a sensitive job or contract, other than in “exceptional circumstances.”

But with government spending under “intense pressure”, the report says, “many top workers” now find themselves “blocked from the roles they deserve, in favour of those [workers] already with security clearance.”

Its authors, the PCG and the University of Buckingham’s Security and Intelligence Studies Centre, accused the government of operating a “closed shop” on jobs – where only candidates with an existing clearance are let in.

“Security Clearance should not only keep the wrong people out, but get the right people in and we are not seeing this basic premise functioning currently,” reflected John Brazier, PCG’s managing director.

“This is a barrier to recruitment in contravention of guidelines which attach clearance to roles not people.”

Report author Professor Anthony Glees singled out the IT sector, saying the abuse of the guidance is such that the system either “cannot cope or is not being implemented properly.”

Meanwhile, the required security checks on candidates are not always being made and the system has “no consistency.” Applying the three failings to the vetting system as a whole, he believes it amounts to a threat to the UK’s national security.

A “major rethink on vetting procedures” is indeed in the national interest, PCG enforced, because “the government should be benefiting from the best expertise”, but instead are “at the mercy of a closed market that is operating outside the government guidelines.”

“It is time for the policymakers to back up their guidelines and enforce a fair competitive market that ensures the country is paying for and benefiting from the best talent available.”

However, the group added an acknowledgement that the government was also part of the problem. “The Cabinet Office guidelines are being flouted in order to speed up the recruitment process for Government and agencies,” the group said.

“PCG believes abuse and corner cutting to get workers in fast should be monitored closely to ensure both agencies do not advertise in the wrong way and that the Security vetting system can cope with the demands of vetting government staff.”

The report authors said they had approached the Cabinet Office and were awaiting a response to their recommendations for improving the vetting system, including a proposal to establish an independent forum to monitor the actions of contractors, clients and agents.

Monday 17th October 2011