If You're a Recruiter
So, you’re filling a position that requires your prospective employee to be able to obtain a security clearance. This is a challenge that many recruiters face because, although your applicant may have the skills and qualifications to perform the job, he may not have the “background” that allows the government to trust this applicant with classified or sensitive information. The last thing you want to do is spend time and money hiring an employee to perform a job that he will ultimately be ineligible to perform.
When an adjudicator is reviewing an applicant’s background he’s trying to make a determination about the applicant’s honesty, integrity, judgment, reliability, trustworthiness, and susceptibility to blackmail or coercion. To make this determination, the adjudicator must examine the applicant’s history with respect to employment, criminal conduct, drug and alcohol use, foreign travels, foreign contacts and interests, finances, and use of technology. Derogatory information in any of these categories can result in the denial of a security clearance.
The good news is you can make your own preliminary determination about a prospective employee before you formally offer the individual the job. The first thing you should do is check the individual’s employment background. Important facts to determine include:
If you find that the applicant was not honest about anything in his employment history, there’s a chance that there is some other element in his background that will raise questions about his personal conduct. Therefore, you should strongly consider whether or not to move forward with this applicant.
If you utilize the services of a private background investigation company, you can obtain information about the prospective employee’s criminal and credit history. If issues are found in the applicant’s background regarding these topics, you will have to evaluate the severity of the issues to determine the likelihood of this applicant being able to obtain a security clearance.
If You're an FSO
So, you’ve hired an individual, the individual has completed the security clearance questionnaire (SF85 or SF86), and there are issues in this person’s background that may impair his/her ability to obtain a security clearance. As an FSO, you may be able to provide guidance or assistance to your new employee to help him/her obtain a security clearance. The goal is to mitigate the issues as much as possible during the course of the investigation.
For individuals who have past issues, such as prior criminal conduct, prior drug use, or prior financial delinquencies, there aren’t any actions that the applicant can take to mitigate these issues. The applicant will have to be able to discuss during an interview with an investigator the full history surrounding the conduct, whether the conduct was a result of any circumstances outside of his or her control, and persuasively express the unlikelihood that the applicant will engage in any similar conduct in the future.
However, if the individual has current issues, the individual needs to immediately take action to remedy these issues. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on current financial delinquencies, foreign contacts or interests, and issues with drugs or alcohol.
If your applicant has financial delinquencies, he needs to make every effort to pay off these debts immediately. If he is unable to do this, he should contact his creditors to attempt to set up payment plans, so as to show that he is taking responsibility for the debt. The last thing an adjudicator wants to see is that someone is ignoring the debts that he owes to creditors. It’s important to show that the applicant is maintaining communication with the creditors and updating them on his ability to pay the debts.
Obviously, with respect to drug use, the individual needs to cease using illegal drugs immediately. Recent drug use is difficult to mitigate because enough time has not passed to show that the person will not continue to engage in this conduct. In this instance, it may be wise for the individual to follow up with a drug evaluation or counseling to further show the adjudicators his sincerity to abstain from any future conduct.
Foreign contacts and interests can be a little tricky. If an applicant is friends with his neighbor who happens to be a foreign national, this probably will not be enough to prevent him from obtaining a security clearance. The SF86 questionnaire specifically asks the applicant to list foreign nationals with whom he’s had close or continuing contact for the last seven years, and with whom he is bound by affection, loyalty, or obligation. Chances are the applicant will not feel bound to his neighbor.
However, if the applicant has multiple family members who are foreign nationals, this can potentially be problematic as it may be difficult to show that he does not feel bound to these individuals. In this circumstance, the applicant would have to show that his loyalties to the United States are stronger than any loyalty he may feel towards his foreign national family members.
Greg Rinckey is the Managing Partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC, one of the largest federal sector employment law firms in the country. Greg is a recognized leader in the military and federal employment law sectors. Nicole Smith, Tully Rinckey Associate, represents government employees and contractors in a wide range of security clearance matters, with a concentration on application and interview counseling. Nicole spent nine years as a national security background investigator. Follow Tully Rinckey on Twitter @FedLawSource.