If you are employed by the Federal government, as a military member, a civilian employee, or a government contractor, you are likely required to possess some level of a security clearance. Today, virtually all Federal government positions are required to maintain at least eligibility for a security clearance. The initial step in obtaining a clearance is the completion of the security clearance application, known as the SF-86. Depending on the level of clearance sought, the government will investigate your background to determine your eligibility. Even after you are granted a clearance, the government may seek to revoke that clearance for a wide variety of reasons.
The consequences of failing to obtain or losing one’s security clearance can be severe as it will likely lead to your termination from Federal employment. In addition, the government could bring criminal charges for submitting a false statement under the U.S. Code. The maximum possible punishment for this offense is 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If the government attempts to revoke your clearance, you will receive a letter from the agency involved. This letter will detail the basis for the government’s proposed action and will explain the rights you have in connection with the process. You will first have the opportunity to submit written matters in rebuttal to the proposed action. This is your first chance to challenge the factual basis of the proposed revocation and you should take advantage of this opportunity to correct any inaccurate statements and provide any supporting documentation. While you can do this without an attorney, the assistance of an experienced national security lawyer may assist you in the process.
There are several reasons why an individual’s application may be denied or why an existing clearance may be revoked. The reasons include: drug involvement, sexual behavior, other criminal conduct, foreign influence or preference, personal conduct, alcohol or drug involvement, and emotional, mental or personality disorders. The most common reason for security clearance revocations is for financial reasons. Essentially, the concern is that if an individual is in significant debt, that person may be more susceptible to bribery in order to satisfy outstanding debts. With the economic downturn of the last several years, many honest employees have had to defend their clearances as credit card debt and housing foreclosures have escalated.
The Application Process
If you are submitting your first clearance application or seeking renewal of an existing clearance, the first step in the process is completing the SF-86. The form is completed on-line today and it can be a tedious process to gather all the required information and complete the questionnaire accurately. The applicant will then be interviewed personally by an investigator, usually a contractor hired to conduct the investigations. The investigator will also interview your references, run a credit and criminal background check, and verify the information you provided in your application. If all goes well, your clearance will be issued, generally within six months of your application. However, if things do not go well, you may receive a notice of the government’s intent to deny your clearance. This letter will contain what is known as a Statement of Reasons (SOR) that details the specific reasons for the denial. As mentioned above, you will then have the chance to submit rebuttal materials for consideration.
The Appeal and Hearing Procedure
If you have received notification that the government is attempting to revoke your security clearance, you will be advised of the hearing procedure by your respective adjudication agency. The agency involved will depend on your employer. An Administrative Judge presides over the hearing and the record of the hearing will be transcribed by a court reporter. The government may or may not be represented by a lawyer and you have the right to have a lawyer represent you during the hearing. The procedure is similar to a civil or criminal trial with opening statements, direct and cross examination of witnesses, presentation of evidence, and closing argument. There is, however, no jury and the judge will make a recommendation to the agency based on the evidence presented. The hearing is generally held in the geographic area of your employer but it may be held via video teleconference with the judge participating from another location. After the hearing, the judge will prepare a recommended decision and forward it to the agency that will make the final decision.
If you have concerns over your security clearance or have been notified that the government is seeking to revoke your clearance, you should contact an experienced security clearance attorney to discuss the specific facts of your case.