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Senate Intel Panel Moves to Improve Election Security

Intelligence authorization includes key changes to convoluted security clearance system.

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Mark Warner, left, and Richard M. Burr, led their panel to approve a series of election security proposals. (CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Mark Warner, left, and Richard M. Burr, led their panel to approve a series of election security proposals. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Intelligence Committee took action Tuesday on its latest effort to bolster election security against threats from Russian and other adversaries, and also to improve the broken security clearance process.

“In the wake of foreign efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections, which this Committee continues to investigate, I am pleased to see this bill contains comprehensive measures to enhance our election security,” Chairman Richard M. Burr of North Carolina said in a statement. “It is vital that we ensure our voting process remains fair and free from undue influence.”

According to the committee, the legislation advanced unanimously during a closed session of the Intelligence panel would provide new tools for election security, following the panel’s release of preliminary findings back in March.

The committee’s preliminary reporting included recommendations for the Homeland Security Department to work to get expedited security clearances for state and local election officials to get access to intelligence about threats to voting systems.

Overhauling the clearance system has been among the priorities of Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the panel’s vice chairman and who represents a large number of federal workers and contractors in need of access to sensitive and classified information.

Among the changes are new requirements for active clearances to be quickly transferred between federal departments and agencies.

“It has long been clear that the 70-year-old process that grants security clearances to government personnel and contractors is in desperate need of reform,” Warner said in a statement.

At a hearing earlier this year, Burr said his own son faced the substantial backlog of getting a security clearance when seeking employment at the Department of Defense roughly a decade ago.

The measures are contained in an intelligence authorization bill for fiscal 2018 and 2019 that the committee unanimously reported on Tuesday. Bill text was not immediately released by the Intelligence Committee.

“The bill continues initiatives this Committee has undertaken on a bipartisan basis to push the IC to foster innovation in its approach to overhead satellite systems,” said Warner. “Finally, as we approach the 2018 elections, the bill includes important measures to protect U.S. federal and state election systems — including from Russian threats — and to improve information sharing with states to ensure the integrity of the election process.”

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