GAO Adds Security Clearance Process to Urgent List of “High Risk” Programs

Jan 25, 2018
Press Release

GAO Adds Security Clearance Process to

Urgent List of “High Risk” Programs


Confirms Repeated Concerns from Ranking Member Cummings,

Who Again Calls on Gowdy to Subpoena Documents Being Withheld


Washington, D.C. (Jan. 25, 2018)—Today, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) took urgent action to designate security clearances as one of the most significant “High Risk” programs across the federal government.  In making today’s designation, GAO broke from its traditional process of updating its High Risk List at only two-year intervals, expressing greater urgency about the need to address problems with the nation’s security clearance process.

According to Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro:  “Our objective for the High Risk List is to bring attention to policymakers of the need for action sooner, rather than later.  Renewed and strong top leadership commitment will be critical to facilitate progress in reducing the backlog and completing key improvements to the personnel security clearance process.”

In response to today’s action by GAO, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement:

“Today’s urgent action by the nonpartisan investigators at GAO confirms what I have been warning about for months:  serious deficiencies in our nation’s security clearance processes represent an urgent and grave risk to our national security, not only with respect to systemic challenges, but also with respect to specific individuals who should not have access to our nation’s most highly guarded secrets.  Unfortunately, the Chairman has refused all of my requests to obtain documents for the past year and has blocked all efforts to allow our Committee Members to vote for ourselves.  I hope today’s action by GAO highlights the urgency of this issue, breaks the logjam, and finally prompts our Committee to obtain the documents the White House and others have been withholding from Congress.”

GAO’s announcement comes just one day after Cummings sent a letter to Chairman Trey Gowdy raising concerns that the Chairman has refused all of his requests to investigate security clearance matters.  Cummings specifically cited previous GAO reports, as well as new Defense Department data showing that at least 165 individuals were granted “interim” security clearances who were later denied final security clearance because of undisclosed criminal conduct or risks to national security. 

Cummings asked Gowdy to issue a subpoena to compel the White House to produce documents it has been withholding for months relating to security clearances for the President’s top aides, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, his son Michael Flynn, Jr.Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, and other officials

The Oversight Committee has direct jurisdiction over security clearances, as well as the processes through which they are granted, suspended, and revoked, and the Committee has investigated security clearances under both Republican and Democratic chairmen.

When Gowdy assumed the chairmanship of the Committee last year, he held a meeting with reporters during which he explained that he was walling off numerous topics from the Committee’s oversight.  However, as the Washington Post reported after the meeting, “Gowdy said there were Trump-related matters that he did see falling within the Oversight panel’s purview,’ including ‘procedures for issuance of security clearances.”

Since becoming Chairman, Gowdy has refused to join even one of Cummings’ requests for documents relating to these issues:  


  • Information on Broad Problems with “Interim” Security Clearances


  • Yesterday, Cummings sent a letter asking Gowdy to issue a subpoena to the White House—or at least allow the Committee to vote on one—seeking information it has been withholding for months relating to interim clearances granted during the transition and in the White House.


  • In October 2017, Gowdy had refused to join Democrats in sending a request to the White House, the Defense Department, and other agencies regarding problems with granting “interim” security clearances while background investigations are underway.


  • Michael Flynn’s Security Clearance:  


  • In October 2017, Gowdy blocked a request from all 18 Democrats on the Oversight Committee to subpoena the White House to produce documents about the security clearance of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn or to allow the Committee to vote on the motion.


  • Gowdy refused repeatedly to join Democrats in sending requests to Michael Flynn’s business colleagues requesting information about the numerous foreign contacts and trips he withheld from security clearance investigators in 2016.


  • In December 2017, Gowdy blocked a request from Cummings seeking to subpoena Flynn’s business colleagues for this information.


  • In August 2017, Gowdy refused to join a letter Cummings sent to Bijan Kian seeking documents relating to information he provided to background check investigators evaluating Flynn’s foreign contacts and trips.


  • Michael Flynn, Jr.’s Security Clearance:


  • In November 2017, Gowdy refused to join a letter Cummings sent to the FBI—which processes security clearances and conducts background checks for Transition Team personnel—requesting documents relating to the “foreign contacts” sections of Michael Flynn, Jr.’s security clearance application. 


  • In January 2018, Gowdy refused a request to issue subpoenas to compel Vice President Pence, as former head of the Trump Transition Team, as well as the FBI and DOJ, to produce portions of the security clearance application submitted by Michael Flynn, Jr.


  • Information on Failure to Suspend Kushner’s and Flynn’s Clearances During Investigations:


  • In June 2017, Gowdy declined to join a letter from all Oversight Committee Democrats to the White House requesting documents about the decision by White House officials to disregard longstanding security clearance protocols by allowing Senior Advisor Jared Kushner to continue accessing classified information after he failed to disclose multiple meetings with Russian officials—including at least one joined by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn at Trump Tower.


  • In January 2018, Cummings sent a letter requesting that Gowdy issue a subpoena to compel the White House to produce documents it has been withholding from Congress relating to its failure to suspend the security clearances of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner while authorities investigated—and continue to investigate—credible allegations against them involving national security issues.  He never responded.
115th Congress