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What to Do If Your Security Clearance Is Denied

Applying for security clearance with the federal government can sometimes be daunting. Whether you’re applying for confidential, secret, or top secret security clearance, the circumstances of your life will be analyzed and interpreted.  You may be denied security clearance for any number of reasons, including drug involvement, financial debt or affluence (being overly acquisitive), gambling addiction, undue foreign influence, reckless sexual behavior,  technology misuse, or other behavior the government deems as a risk to national security.

If you’re a federal employee or government contractor, and your request for security clearance has been denied, there are a number of recourses available to you. If you feel you have been unjustly denied security clearance, for any reason, you can appeal for a reversal of the decision.

Responding to the Denial

The federal government can take up to six months to approve your application for security clearance. If you’re denied clearance, you will be issued a notice (called a “Statement of Reasons” or SOR) that outlines the specific reasons, disqualifiers, or areas of concern that determined the decision.

Federal employees who disagree with the decision can first request to see the documents and records on file that influenced the denial. Employees can then respond in writing to the reasons cited in the SOR. This response – which may be required in as few as 15 days – should demonstrate why the decision may be in error, reveal any mitigating factors that would merit reconsideration of the decision, and cite relevant legal precedents.

If the clearance adjudicator agrees with the employee, then clearance is granted. If not, the employee must move on to the formal appeal stage.

Mitigating Factors

Along with the reasons for denial, you may also be given a list of conditions that, if you meet them, your denial may be reconsidered. Everyone’s case is different, but your mitigating factors might include proof that you have engaged only infrequently in an act or have not engaged in it for a long time, or you have completed a counseling program related to the disqualifying factor.  There are a host of mitigating factors that could prove your eligibility for access to classified information and ultimately grant you a security clearance.

Appealing the Decision

Both federal employees and government contractors may formally appeal a security clearance denial. Federal employees request a hearing before the appropriate appeals board or administrative judge, where their case will be heard and evaluated.

Government contractors are first asked a series of questions that they must respond to within 20 days. They must also state whether they wish to have a written decision or a formal hearing regarding their response. In either case, documents and records pertinent to the decision are made available to the contractor. A formal hearing may involve additional evidence and witnesses, and is usually preferable for contractors with significant security concerns.

Legal Assistance

The assistance of a knowledgeable attorney can make all the difference between a failed and a successful security clearance appeal. An attorney will make sure that your written responses to the federal government are clearly stated, adequately researched, and fully inclusive of the mitigating factors that can validate your security clearance.

If you’re granted a hearing, an experienced security clearance attorney knows how best to present your mitigating evidence to the appropriate board or judge, and can keep your appeal moving forward on time. Especially in more complex cases, an attorney can question witnesses and better understand the kind of information hearing officers and judges need to fully evaluate your case.

The proven security clearance attorneys at Tully Rinckey PLLC are ready to help you appeal your security clearance denial. We personally understand the process of applying for clearance, as well as adjudicative guidelines and mitigating factors. Contact us to schedule an initial consultation.


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