Staff at the nation's domestic spy agency are working overtime to reduce long waits for officials needing high-level security clearances to handle top secret information.
A new report from the national auditor shows ASIO is relying on employees to work longer hours when the backlog for high-level security clearances grows.
The Australian National Audit Office also found a major logjam of pending security assessments had been cleared after a 2017 intelligence review urged action.
There were still delays for officials waiting to be assessed for top secret positive vetting clearances - the highest level of security clearance for public servants, granting access to extremely sensitive information and operations.
"ASIO has historically used overtime and surge capacity of additional staff resources in response to increases in demand for security assessments," the audit report said.
ASIO relied on staff doing overtime to tackle high security assessment numbers during periods of larger demand. When it used overtime, ASIO provided the security clearances without delays more often, and case volumes dropped, the audit office found.
The domestic security agency provides security vetting against insider threats in the public service. However the 2017 independent intelligence review found a backlog of top secret clearances - with wait times peaking at 18 months - were making it harder for security agencies to manage their workforces.
A multi-agency push succeeded in clearing nearly 1,300 delayed assessments by January last year, after the intelligence review urged security agencies tackle the backlog.
ASIO seconded staff to the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency in a bid to reduce numbers of delayed assessments, although the audit report found ASIO kept the majority of the additional resources within its own agency.
Officials are waiting less on average for top secret level security clearances, compared to June 2019, when the wait was 292 business days or nearly 15 months.
The waiting period later grew again to eight months between March 2020 and January this year, however the figure remains within the nine-month benchmark required of ASIO.
ASIO met its 30-business day benchmark for "routine" top secret security assessments less than 50 per cent of the time in each month between March 2020 and February 2021.
The number of assessments for security clearances fell between July 2017 and January 2020, but ASIO says Australia's security environment and its impact on demand for the high level assessments remained unpredictable.
The audit report recommended the intelligence agency formalise its procedures for using its surge capacity including staff overtime.
It said ASIO should set conditions to initiate, increase and cease its use of surge capacity; set minimum training requirements for staff; and keep a register of staff who are trained and can provide additional surge capacity.
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