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As the Federal security adjudicators return to the office full time, the scrutiny on security clearances and resulting reviews and adjudications will move back to their 2019 numbers. Approximately 2.3 million cleared service members, civilian employees, and contractors are now under the Continuous Evaluation (or “CE”) protocol. This represents over half the security cleared community. Guideline F leads to more denials and revocations than any other guideline.
“CE” radically changed security review. Gone are the days when you could duff around for four or five years and then try to clean up your record before filling out your periodic review documentation, the e-Qip/SF86, and then have a well-connected boss move you through.
Two lines of adjudicative guideline behavior are especially prone to CE triggers: Guideline F, Financial Considerations and Guideline J, Criminal Conduct. Running the algorithm through the Federal government’s National Agency Check (both NAC and NACI) program readily reveals local law enforcement records on the cleared person. A call to the town Police Officer by a threatened or angry spouse can launch a review quickly.
The same with profligate spending triggering Guideline F, Financial Considerations. At the high end, most Intelligence Community cadre and contractors maintain zero balances on credit cards and keep long term debt to discreet levels. Less is more, when it comes to your security profile. The Security Office expects you to sacrifice for the privilege of carrying a badge. Outside the IC, the review—always discretionary—is a little more forgiving.
Consider two Guideline F, Financial Considerations opinions handed down by the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals just before the COVID pandemic hit Washington, D.C.
In Case No. 18-02782, Judge Loughran found that a person making the best of a bad debt situation created by a spouse could keep her security clearance. Pivotal in the case was that she had a comprehensive plan, developed a payment plan agreed to by the debt holders, and included payment of discharged debts in the plan. The last point is critical. You may think you got off Scot-free by having bad debt discharged, but the Security Office will hold you to that debt. The discharge may have been penny-wise but pound-foolish. And pawning the creation of a plan off to a debt servicing company may not be wise, either; security judges and officials want to see that you, the clearance holder, are taking responsibility for your actions. Outsourcing the correction is not a means of sending that message.
Around the same time, Judge Malone issued Case No. 18-01037, where again, a spouse was part of a Financial Consideration case. Resolving the failed marriage was part of the solution. Also important was the production of a family budget showing prudent and moderate lifestyle choices matched to the security clearance holder’s income. A bonus in this case was the appearance of the clearance holder’s supervisor to testify to reliability, credibility, and trustworthiness.
Guideline F, Financial Consideration reviews are not only an assessment of your reliability based on your personal finances; they are an assessment of you and whether you are orderly and precise in your affairs. A messy mind makes a messy handler of classified information; and a messy person has a messy mind, or so Security thinks. Sending screen shot statements and scribbles to Security usually doesn’t build confidence in your security profile. Better to take your time, consult with counsel, file a written reply, and attend the hearing with a professional demeanor.
Dan Meyer, Managing Partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Washington, D.C. office, has dedicated more than 25 years of service to the field of Federal Employment and National Security law as both a practicing attorney, federal investigator, and senior executive. He is a lead in advocating for service members, Federal civilian employees, and contractors as they fight to retain their credentialing, suitability and security clearances. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (202) 787-1900.