Safeguarding Your Security Clearance
By Evan H. Lesser, Co-founder and Managing Director, ClearanceJobs.com
With some economists predicting as much as half a decade until U.S. unemployment lowers to the historical norm of 5%, this will not be an equitable jobs recovery and in certain industries – some jobs are likely gone for good. Unlike the sectors hit hard by the recession, the U.S. defense, homeland security, and intelligence industry has been largely untouched by the economic slowdown. Bolstered by the largest line items in the Federal budget, the business of protecting the U.S. and our foreign interests is characterized by its tight labor pool. In particular, workers with active Federal security clearance remain in high demand. With more open jobs than qualified candidates to fill them, security-cleared professionals in the defense and intelligence industry remain in an enviable career position. Simply put, a security clearance opens more than just doors to classified information – it opens doors to a secure career.
However, just because a worker has received a security clearance does not mean they have the ability to maintain it. Periodic reinvestigations of clearance holders are designed to ensure cleared professionals remain suitable for access to classified information. If the results of a cleared worker’s reinvestigation are unfavorable, their security clearance can be revoked, leaving the worker without a job and a valuable career asset…
While the government’s adjudicative guidelines fairly clearly spell out a wide range of issues that can cause clearance denial, the most common reasons can be placed into 2 main categories: financial considerations and personal conduct and drug/alcohol use.
As evidenced by the growing number of lawyers specializing in clearance denial cases, these two most common categories have their complexities, and review of past legal outcomes shows some variation.
Even though security-cleared workers benefit from as much as a 20% premium on compensation over their equivalent non-cleared counterparts, the Great Recession has shown just about anyone can experience financial trouble. From lost 401ks and diminished mutual fund returns, to decreasing home values and a scarcity of lending, financial difficulties are the most common grounds for clearance denial. Specifically, the adjudicative guidelines consider delinquent debt (amount and cause), irresponsible spending, and financial problems linked to drugs, alcohol, or gambling as key conditions that raise security concerns.
Although the length of time since the financial trouble weighs heavily on the judgment, specific actions can be taken by clearance holders to help mitigate these problems. First, showing consistent good-faith efforts to repay debt and ceasing any behavior which may be causing the debt is critical. Next, anyone with financial concerns should fully document their actions taken to settle debts and communicate with creditors including date, time, copies of correspondence, and other details. This documentation should be presented to investigators early in the inquiry. Finally, actively seeking out financial counseling is considered by adjudicators as an important and positive step towards fiscal responsibility.
With regards to reasons for security clearance denial, the wide umbrella of “personal conduct” takes into account any behavior that indicates the person may not properly safeguard classified information or could be subject to coercion or bribery. This could include a range of activities from lying or deliberately providing falsehoods to an employer or government official, drug or alcohol use and abuse, criminal behavior, sexual misconduct, and disregard for workplace rules, policies, or laws.
Since the “personal conduct” category offers a dizzying array of potential issues that can affect clearance denial, reviewing past legal outcomes is the best starting place to learn how to best mitigate one’s particular problem. As with financial issues, the length of time since the incident(s) or offence(s) is a primary mitigating factor. For the best course of action, individuals should proactively take clear steps to recognize and reconcile the behavior, such as receiving professional counseling and forms of group support. Additionally, the individual should do what they can to reduce their vulnerability to coercion or duress. This may include ceasing involvement with persons suspected of criminal activity or bad influence, enrolling in substance abuse programs, returning stolen items, or letting family members know about previously hidden troubles or troublesome conduct.
Again, documentation is critical to show a security clearance adjudicator a pattern of positive behavior.
A brief statement on psychological conditions should be noted.
Not surprisingly, the global financial recession has been fingered for driving a significant increase in reported mental health problems to hospitals, clinics, and telephone hot lines. Anxieties over job security, retirement savings, and homelessness have made mental well being a far more common health concern than it was a half decade ago.
Many security clearance holders are surprised to learn that simply having mental or psychological issues and/or receiving professional treatment for them does not immediately suggest loss of clearance suitability. If a licensed mental health professional deems a clearance holder’s condition could impair their judgment or ability to properly protect classified information, the clearance could be revoked, but very few clearances are denied solely for mental health issues.
Those of us fortunate enough to be trusted with security clearances would do well to safeguard this valuable career asset – especially in today’s job market. The key is simply understanding the most common reasons for loss of clearance suitability. Within reason, most of these common issues can be mitigated. For more information, consult the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information, as found on many U.S. government websites.
Evan H. Lesser is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of ClearanceJobs.com, a secure website dedicated to matching job seekers who hold active or current security clearances to top defense industry employers searching for new candidates. Before founding ClearanceJobs.com, Mr. Lesser managed technical projects with CACI for the U.S. Navy’s Science and Technology directorate at the Pentagon, and for the Joint Technology Panel on Electronic Warfare. Previously, he worked for Boeing on its Reserve Component Automation System program for the U.S. Army in metro Washington, DC.