Obtaining and maintaining a security clearance is necessary for most federal positions.
If you are a current federal employee, losing your security clearance is the easiest way to lose your federal career entirely.
And for those who are applying to the federal service, having several public trust clearance disqualifiers on your record can torpedo even the most promising CV.
As the old saying goes, “a penny of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Taking a few moments now to understand how security clearances can be threatened may provide you with vital information later on.
We’ll explore the four most common reasons security clearances get denied or revoked so you can succeed where others have failed.
For those who have already made some of these mistakes, we will also touch on how you can mitigate their effects.
Reason #1: Drug Use
Drug use has consistently been the most common reason for security clearance revocation or denial.
Since the 1980s, the federal government has applied a “zero tolerance” drug use policy in the workplace despite the legalization of some drugs in several states.
In the past few years, many federal employees have lost their security clearances for using marijuana even though doing so was perfectly legal in the state they were working in.
Several specific drug-related conditions that can cost you your security clearance include:
- Using drugs that are illegal on a federal level, including marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and PCP;
- Possessing illegal drugs;
- Being diagnosed with drug dependence or drug abuse by a medical provider;
- Being found to have a drug abuse or dependence issue by a social worker who is a staff member of a drug treatment program;
- Failing to successfully complete a prescribed drug treatment program; and
- Cultivating, processing, selling, or distributing illegal drugs.
There are a few ways you can mitigate drug involvement issues:
- Your drug use was not recent;
- Your drug use was an isolated or unusual event;
- You have a demonstrated intent not to use illegal drugs in the future; and
- You successfully completed a drug treatment program.
You can also help mitigate a drug involvement issue by collecting positive character references from friends, former coworkers, and others who know you well.
A qualified employment attorney can also help you manage drug-related security clearance issues.
Reason #2: Personal Conduct
The government’s definition of “personal conduct” is any general conduct involving “questionable judgment, untrustworthiness, unreliability, lack of candor, dishonesty, or unwillingness to comply with rules” that could indicate a person might not protect classified information.
This is a broad definition that encompasses many different types of conduct and behavior. Some examples of concerning personal conduct include:
- Refusing to undergo the tests and evaluations needed to get a security clearance;
- Refusing to complete or be truthful on security clearance forms;
- A “pattern of dishonesty” or rule violations;
- Association with people involved in any kind of crime;
- Negative feedback from acquaintances, employers, or coworkers; and
- Concealing information that may increase your vulnerability to coercion or blackmail.
You can mitigate these concerns by showing that:
- You took quick action to correct errors or moments of dishonesty before being confronted with the facts;
- Your concerning conduct occurred a long time ago; and
- You made prompt, good-faith efforts to reduce your interactions with criminals.
Of course, cooperating fully with security clearance personnel from the beginning is the best way to avoid running afoul of the personal conduct rule.
If you are concerned about how to answer certain questions on a security clearance form, you should consider consulting with an attorney before submitting your responses.
Reason #3: Financial Issues
For this category, the government is concerned about people who have made questionable financial decisions, obtained money from unknown sources, or who are desperate for money.
More specific conditions that may endanger your security clearance include:
- A history of deceptive or illegal financial acts like embezzlement, tax evasion, and fraud;
- Failure to satisfy your debts; and
- Financial problems caused by gambling, drug abuse, or alcohol abuse.
It’s also important to disclose all of your sources of income, especially if you have a nice car and house.
Otherwise, the government may suspect you derive some of your income from unethical or criminal enterprises.
Reason #4: Foreign Influence
A major concern for the government is ensuring that all federal employees are only loyal to the United States.
Dual citizenship or other factors which suggest allegiance to another country are problematic for obtaining a security clearance. You may have your security clearance revoked if you:
- Possess dual citizenship,
- Are using a foreign passport,
- Share a house or apartment with a person who is connected with a foreign government,
- Are related to someone with a connection to another country, or
- Have extensive financial interests in other countries.
To mitigate these issues, you can:
- Give up your foreign citizenship,
- Travel using only your United States passport,
- Provide evidence showing that your relative or cohabitant is not an agent of another country, and
- Reduce your foreign financial investments so that they are minimal.
Finally, make sure that any connections you have with citizens of other countries are casual and infrequent.
Trying to Avoid a Revoked Security Clearance? Get Professional Legal Help Right Away.
At the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing PLLC, we are passionate about defending your rights as a federal employee, and we are committed to maximizing your chances of having a successful and productive federal career.
We can represent you at every stage of the security clearance process and will go to great lengths to collect evidence that shows you are worthy of a security clearance.
Over the years, we’ve represented countless federal employees in security clearance cases. Thanks to our services, many people have been able to save their security clearance.
We have also helped people with checkered pasts meet the requirements for a secret security clearance.
Although many people worry about the costs of hiring a lawyer, we do not want to let money prevent you from protecting your future. That’s why our initial consultations are free.