By John V. Berry, Esq.,www.berrylegal.com
Many federal employees and government contractors are required to apply for and maintain security clearances as part of their continued employment. In some cases, the security clearance application process can be straightforward. However, if security clearance problems arise, they are typically discovered when the employee or contractor is about to complete his or her security clearance application through e-QIP or the government’s Standard Form 86. Because of this, if it is possible, a security clearance applicant or holder should seek the advice of an experienced lawyer who handles security clearance matters since each case is different. The following article contains some some tips for employees to consider in the security clearance process.
Take Time to Answer Security Clearance Forms Accurately
This is one of the most important tips for an employee. Individuals often receive security clearance denials because they did not adequately examine the questions asked or proofread their responses on the e-QIP/SF-86 application prior to submission. In some cases, if an individual does not take the time to read the question and answers “no,” when they should have answered “yes,” to a question, a clearance investigator might believe that the individual was attempting to be dishonest. This can lead to a truthfulness issue and can disqualify an employee from holding a security clearance. Any oversights can be very detrimental to obtaining or keeping a security clearance. Therefore, it is very important to carefully complete the security clearance application before submitting it.
Honesty is Critical
For security clearance holders and applicants, this recommendation cannot be overstated. Individuals need to be truthful in all aspects of the security clearance process. When an individual is dishonest or deceptive during the security clearance process, it could not only potentially bar the individual from receiving a security clearance at the time, which would remain on his or her clearance record, but it could also raise a host of other legal issues, including potential criminal issues. It is far easier for a security clearance attorney to mitigate security clearance concerns involving financial, prior drug or alcohol usage issues than to have to defend against an allegation involving dishonesty in the clearance application or interview process. An applicant should consult with a security clearance attorney for legal advice if there are any possible criminal disclosures or issues.
Review documents and other information in advance
It is important to take the necessary time to gather and review relevant documents and anything related to any potential security clearance problem in advance. Taking this step will help an individual in two ways: (1) it will help an individual remember all the details of the potential security concern, such as an arrest, drug usage or bankruptcy filing that occurred three or more years ago, in preparation for answering questions; and (2) the documentation that may help to mitigate the security concerns later, if necessary. Memories often fade, so reviewing documents related to disclosable security concerns is important.
Prepare for the Investigative Interview
If an individual believes that there is a reasonable belief that problem area(s) exist in a security clearance application, he or she should expect to be asked about these areas by the assigned investigator. There could also be follow up interviews if questions are not answered correctly. The investigative interview can vary in duration from one hour to several hours depending on whether significant security concerns exist. Prior preparation for the security clearance interview process can help minimize any problem areas. Unfortunately, many individuals go into the interviews without thinking about or preparing for the issues that could arise and often provide incomplete information. Sometimes, unprepared individuals provide incomplete or inaccurate responses which can later be problematic. Interview preparation can also help the individual’s confidence when meeting with the investigator to explain application responses that raise any security concerns.
Don‘t React Defensively to Security Clearance Investigations
We advise that employees not act defensively when asked by an investigator about potential security concerns in a security clearance application. It is the job of the investigator to ask questions about areas which could involve potential security concerns. It is important to be calm and helpful about the issues when speaking to an investigator. In addition, arguing with an investigator will not benefit an individual since the investigator can have significant influence over the application process in the initial stages and potential recommendations. It is important for all applicants to treat the investigator with professionalism. If an investigator attempts to contact you, be timely and courteous in your response. Even if it is inconvenient to meet or return calls, not doing so could be detrimental. Promptly responding to the investigator can give the investigator a positive impression, especially if the investigator will be providing a recommendation regarding your ability to obtain or retain a clearance.
Keep Calm During the Clearance Process
It is important to understand that the security clearance process can often take a few months to longer to complete, depending upon a number of factors, including: (a) the type of employee (whether the individual is a federal employee or government contractor); (b) the number or importance of the security concerns; (c) delays in obtaining responses from other federal agencies in seeking investigative records; (d) the general investigative backlog currently happening; and (e) the ability of investigators to get other important information and/or conduct interviews. There are a multitude of other considerations that can also delay finishing the clearance review so it is important to remain patient during the investigation.
If you need assistance with a security clearance issue, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also like and visit us on Facebook.