Edible security: Sodexo’s secret chef

A job opening for an executive chef with a TS/SCI (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information) rating is causing some rumbles with those following the burgeoning industrial security clearance complex. Sodexho, the private food service, is advertising a government job opening for a chef with a top secret security clearance. The rapid growth in the number of security cleared government food service workers is inflating costs and causing job shortages. The wait-staff wait time for clearances has gone from less than a week to up to six weeks, according to one manager. 


In post-Edward Snowden Washington, hiring for official kitchens and dining halls is grinding to a crawl. Every busboy, dishwasher and cashier requires elaborate background checks, which include lengthy waits for fingerprinting, a credit check and sometimes even a polygraph.

And they are feeling the effects on the frontlines. The Washington Post reports that at the FDA’s latest farm-to-table, craft-cocktail, artisanal restaurant (… huh! The FDA has an artisanal restaurant? Sequester? Austerity?) the turkey carving station is shorthanded. According to The Secrecy blog, part of the Federation of American Scientists project on Government secrecy,

“[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,” said the OMB review. 

And the inflated use of security clearances represents:

[…] a significant policy problem, namely the use of the security clearance process as an employee screening tool […] As of October 2013, the number of persons eligible for access to classified information had grown to 5.1 million persons, including over 1.5 million with Top Secret clearances. According to an ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] report, only 60% of those persons had access to classified information, suggesting that vastly more clearances are being requested and granted than are actually required. [added emphasis] 

Some security experts and company owners with profits on the line are seeing business boom. And one private placement firm CEO, a former US army Warrant officer, philosophically places his work in an historical, but somewhat undemocratic context:

“There’s a reason kings hired courtiers to taste their food,” said Bill Golden, the chief executive of intelligenceCareers.com and of USADefenseIndustryJobs.com. 

And it would poison business to be the private security company to clear-for-hire the next Snowden. At stake is $400 million a year the government spends on investigations into 2 million employees. So for now it's clearances for everybody: tinker, tailor, busboy, chef.

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