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Senators propose security clearance reforms after Snowden

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced legislation aimed at security clearance reforms in the aftermath of disclosures of secret U.S. surveillance programs by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The bill was in response to issues raised at a Senate hearing last month where it was also revealed that a government contractor, USIS, which has been under investigation, conducted Snowden's most recent security review in 2011.

USIS has said it has cooperated with the Office of Personnel Management's inspector general probe, which began before Snowden gave two newspapers information about NSA programs that collect communications data.

Snowden, holed up in the transit area of a Moscow airport, has been offered asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

The legislation would allow the OPM's inspector general to use money from the agency's revolving fund for audits, investigations and oversight activities. That would overcome the OPM general counsel's ruling that the fund cannot be used for those purposes.

The bill would require OPM to fire or suspend investigators and contractors who falsify background reports for security clearances.

Since 2007, 18 individuals have been convicted of falsifying investigations - 11 were government employees and seven were contractors. The OPM inspector general currently has 11 active investigations related to suspected falsification and 36 pending until it receives more resources.

The bill would also require the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to publish within 180 days guidance to help government agencies determine whether a position requires a security clearance.

At this time there is no similar bill in the House of Representatives. To become law, a bill must be approved by both the Senate and House and signed by the president.

The bill is sponsored by Democratic Senators Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill and Republican Senators Rob Portman and Ron Johnson.

"This bill gives investigators the tools they need to hold folks accountable and protect our national security," Tester said in a statement.

(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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