Americans with Government Security Clearance Top 5 Million

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Even as President Barack Obama has railed against leaks in the federal government—from pursuing journalists’ anonymous sources to denouncing whistleblowers like Edward Snowden—the number of security clearances granted to government workers, contractors and others has steadily gone up during his time in office.


That number has now exceeded 5 million.


To be exact, as of last October, the number of Americans deemed eligible for access to classified information reached 5,150,379. While eligible for such access, not all of them had it. About 60% of those who are eligible actually possessed it.


The 2013 total represented a jump of 4.7% from the previous year’s total of 4.9 million.


Of the 5.1 million with clearances, 3.7 million were government workers (civilian and military), 1 million were contractors, and the rest were “others,” according to a report (pdf) from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).


It has now been four consecutive years that the security-clearance population increased in size.


In the aftermath of the massive secret data leaks by Snowden and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, OMB officials warned that the ever-increasing number of clearances only puts the government at additional risk of someone divulging classified information.


“[The] growth in the number of clearance-holders increases costs and exposes classified national security information, often at very sensitive levels, to an increasingly large population,” the OMB review states.


The agency recommended reducing the 5.1 million population “to minimize risk of access to sensitive information and reduce cost.”


At the Department of Defense, a major source of security of clearances, the number of people accessing top-secret materials has tripled since 9/11, according to an independent review (pdf) of the Washington Navy Yard shooting cited by Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News.


“The continuing expansion of the cleared population has created a culture in which once-rare security clearances are now too often granted by default,” stated the report. (It was noted by Aftergood that the issuing of clearances hasn’t been “rare” for decades.)


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that he supports at least a 10% reduction in the number of personnel holding secret security clearances.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Security-Cleared Population Rises to 5.1 Million (by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News)

Suitability and Security Processes Review Report to the President (Office of Management and Budget) (pdf)

Americans with Access to Classified Information Nears 5 Million (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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