WASHINGTON — Defense contractors are still facing long waits to get new or updated security clearances, and probably won’t see major improvements in the near future, according to congressional researchers.

That could mean longer waits for computer networking, equipment repair, and other services provided to the military worldwide by contractors.

“It’s a very serious problem every time a contractor gets a contract,” said Pete Steffes, vice president of government policy for the National Defense Industrial Association, whose members include more than 11,000 defense contractors.

“If you can’t get those clearances quickly, you can have employees just sitting around for months, or the contractor could lose the bid. … And that really slows down the work.”

Officials from the Government Accountability Office, in a letter responding to questions from the Senate last week, said both Office of Personnel Management and defense officials have instituted minor changes in the clearance process since the start of the year, but so far have not found a permanent solution to the problem.

In February, OPM officials reported that more than 185,000 of its clearance investigations were delayed past the deadline required for the work.

“It’s a real problem, it continues to be a problem, and there are no real fixes in sight,” said Derek Stewart, director of defense capabilities and management for the GAO.

Stewart said the backlog mainly affects defense contractors. Active-duty personnel who need clearance, and especially those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, are usually moved quickly through the process.

But contractors still can’t get new employees cleared quickly, and have begun raiding each others’ work forces for qualified workers with security passes, Stewart said.

OPM officials declined comment. Department of Defense officials did not return requests for comment.

Records show the Department of Defense has about 2 million active security clearances for its employees, about 680,000 of whom are defense contractors.

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