One of the most valuable commodities in and around the federal community is the security clearance. A clearance is not a legal right, but rather a status granted by the government as an indication of trust placed in an individual. Even though federal employees and contractors do not have a right to a clearance, it cannot be taken away from someone without some due process. Part of this due process includes a recitation of reasons and circumstances that could result in the loss of a clearance. These are called “adjudicative guidelines” and they are consistent governmentwide, even in agencies such as the CIA and National Security Agency.
The Defense Department conducts more security clearance cases in a transparent way than any federal agency. Anyone interested in learning more about security clearances and how to lose one can go to this website and click on Industrial Security Program to read the adjudicative guidelines and case decisions where security clearances have been granted or denied. Even though federal employees are not covered by the industrial program, the same principles and guidelines apply.
If a job requires a clearance, an employee will lose his job if he loses his clearance. Reasons for losing a clearance are extensive. They include:
• Lying. Tell the truth on security clearance questionnaires and in the interview. The surest way to have a clearance revoked is to be less than honest. Background investigators are adept at finding problem areas in your past, so it is better to answer all questions carefully and accurately. When filling out the SF-86 or other background investigation forms, read the instructions. Often, an answer that you think is a problem will be disqualifying. Lying about it or trying to hide or minimize it is almost a guaranteed reason for denial of a clearance.
• Using illegal drugs while having a clearance. Any prior drug use will be examined and may be disqualifying depending on how often and the type of drugs used, whether use was experimental, and how recent use was. Drug use before having a clearance can be explained and balanced, and a clearance might be granted. Drug use while holding a clearance is much more problematic, and while it does not result in automatic clearance revocation, it takes more explaining to keep a clearance.
• Misuse of alcohol. Serious misuse of alcohol to the point where it is a problem in your life could cause a security clearance problem. A long period of sobriety and a treatment program might save your clearance.
• Dual citizenship. Dual citizenship by itself is not a problem. But traveling outside the U.S. on a foreign passport could cause the loss of security clearance, particularly at DoD.
• Criminal activity. Recent criminal activity, particularly a felony, could result in the loss of a clearance. One area of occasional confusion (although it should not be if the security clearance form is closely read) is about criminal records that are expunged. Even if a crime is expunged under state law, it still must be reported if the crime is within the time covered by the question.
• Security violations, including misuse of information technology systems. This is a big deal. If you are careless with classified material, particularly if you willfully ignore the rules, a clearance will be hard to keep. The same is true for violating IT protocols.
• Indebtedness. Serious indebtedness will cause questions about your reliability for a security clearance. Try to pay your bills and live within your means to have the best chance of not having a clearance checked. The background investigators do check your credit reports.