NEWS + ADVICE
How Can Alcohol Consumption Threaten Your Security Clearance Eligibility
Under Guideline G, Alcohol Consumption, the government may have security concerns related to excessive alcohol consumption, as it may lead to questionable judgment or criminal conduct. This can include incidents at work or away from work. You don’t even need a diagnosis for an alcohol-related disorder for you to be disqualified from obtaining a security clearance. However, the question remains, does an alcohol-related incident prevent you from obtaining or maintaining a security clearance? The short answer is, it can, if the appropriate mitigation is not pursued.
Many times, Guideline G disqualifying conditions become applicable after an alcohol-related incident occurs outside of work, such as being arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or alcohol-related incidents at work, such as reporting to work under the influence of alcohol. However, even reporting that you have engaged in excessive, habitual, or binge alcohol consumption, regardless if you were diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, can raise questions about your ability to safeguard classified material and hold a security clearance.
What Can You Do?
Nonetheless, a Guideline G incident as described above does not have to mean your security clearance will be revoked or denied. In many cases, taking the proper steps to establish mitigation can be enough to quell any government concerns. In the case of a DUI, or other alcohol-related criminal events, complying with all court orders, paying all fines, and disclosing any unique circumstances that led to the incident can heavily contribute to mitigating arguments.
Additionally, establishing a pattern of modified consumption or complete abstinence from alcohol consumption is also a strong tool to show the government that you have learned from your past mistakes. While you may not be diagnosed with any type of alcohol use disorder, obtaining a professional opinion or even taking an alcohol use awareness course can provide substantial mitigation for these alcohol-related concerns.
The bottom line is that showing evidence that you have overcome any problem and have learned from your mistakes so as you will not engage in similar conduct in the future is paramount for strong mitigation involving Guideline G.
Real-World Guideline G Outcomes
Let’s take a look at two Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals cases involving Guideline G, to see how alcohol consumption impacts security clearance holders.
Case No. 14-05651
The applicant in this case is an employee of a Federal Contractor, who served in the U.S. Navy for nine years. He was issued a Statement of Reasons (SOR) in 2015 by the Department of Defense due to concerns involving Guideline G (Alcohol Consumption) and J (Criminal Conduct). The applicant requested a hearing before a judge and responded to the SOR, admitting he consumed alcohol from 2005-2012, at times to excess. This resulted in alcohol related arrests in both 2005 and 2012, leading to his discharge from the Navy “Under Honorable Conditions (General),” in 2013.
He was first arrested on Base by civilian police for Driving Under the Influence of alcohol in 2005. The applicant was reduced in rank one pay grade, served two days in jail, and had his driver’s license suspended due to the DUI. He was also arrested the next year for Driving While License Suspended/Revoked, thinking his suspension did not apply to his out-of-state driver’s license. He was convicted and served ten days of community service.
Then in 2012, he was arrested on Base by civilian police for a second DUI. He was reduced in rank one pay grade again, received 45 days of extra duty, and was placed on probation for five years. The following year he was diagnosed as being Alcohol Dependent. However, an evaluation from 2015 showed no such diagnoses and he had abstained from the consumption of alcohol since January of 2012. He also signed a Statement of Intent not to consume alcohol in the future, consenting to an automatic revocation of his security clearance if he consumes alcohol.
Though security concerns were initially raised, the judge found enough time had passed that the behavior was unlikely to recur. The applicant acknowledged his alcoholism, provided evidence of actions taken to overcome his problem, established a pattern of abstinence and intends no future consumption.
As for his two convictions, the judge acknowledged two applicable countervailing mitigating conditions. At the time of the hearing, the applicant’s last conviction was more than three years ago. There was evidence of successful rehabilitation and the root of his past criminal conduct, alcohol consumption, had ceased. Thus, the judge found the applicant had mitigated the security concerns surrounding both Alcohol Consumption and related Criminal Conduct, and granted eligibility for a security clearance.1
Case No. 18-02726
The next case involves an applicant who incurred three alcohol-related offenses between 2008 and 2017. At the time of the hearing, the applicant was employed by a DOD contractor as a customer service representative serving veterans. He was previously enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he received an honorable discharge in 1993 for medical reasons. His drinking escalated after he sustained injuries in the Army, using alcohol as a coping mechanism for his PTSD.
He admitted all of the SOR allegations, which included his first DUI arrest in 2008. His driver’s license was suspended, he was placed on one year of probation, and was required to attend an alcohol education course. He admitted his drinking pattern did not change much after his probation ended, and his alcohol consumption increased to daily use. The applicant was arrested again in 2015 and charged with a second DUI. He initially stopped going out on the weekends, but resumed drinking on a daily basis.
In 2017, the applicant was charged with his third DUI. He was sentenced to two weeks in jail, ordered to attend alcohol counseling for one year, his driver’s license was suspended and he was required to install an interlock device in his vehicle for 18 months. He stated his two-week jail sentence caused him to hit rock bottom and he realized he could no longer drink alcohol at his current rate. After the 18-month interlock device period ended, he requested to keep the device in his vehicle, but the state advised him it needed to be returned and it was removed.
The applicant received alcohol treatment at a counseling facility for a condition diagnosed as Alcohol Use Disorder (mild), where he maintained total abstinence while enrolled in the program, which was not a requirement. He was released from the program early after meeting all treatment goals.
Since the fall of 2017, the applicant reported that he has consumed alcohol less than six times total, and always in a social setting. He no longer drinks and drives or feels an urge to drink alcohol. He stated that if he thought alcohol was becoming a problem for him, he would immediately report to his alcohol counselor. His program manager also submitted a letter of recommendation, stating he is a valued employee. His program manager recommended he be granted a security clearance so he can continue to serve military veterans with his outstanding customer service.
Though he incurred three alcohol-related offenses, the judge noted the applicant takes his job seriously and is motivated not to engage in future irresponsible conduct. Through successful completion of alcohol counseling, and positive lifestyle changes, he has shown that his alcohol issues are in the past and unlikely to recur. The applicant mitigated the security concerns arising from his alcohol-related conduct and was granted eligibility for access to classified information.2
How Do They Find Out?
If you haven’t been arrested for a DUI you may wonder how the security office could find out about excessive alcohol consumption. For one, alcohol use is included in the Questionnaire for National Security Positions, Standard Form 86 (SF86). The form not only asks about police records involving alcohol consumption, but it also includes whether or not alcohol has had a negative impact on your personal or professional life, and if you’ve ever been advised to or sought counseling/treatment as a result of your use of alcohol. Keep in mind, you can include mitigating information on your SF86 if you respond yes to any of these things.
If you have received a DUI, you are required to self-report the arrest. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to your SF86 and ongoing reporting. A DUI will undoubtedly be uncovered during an initial investigation, reinvestigation, or flagged during Continuous Evaluation online database scans. It’s always wise to self-report before you get caught hiding something.
Protect Your Cleared Career
Regardless of whether or not you are currently facing a revocation or denial of your security clearance, it is important to stay cognizant of what Guideline G entails and that an alcohol related incident may not be the final nail in your coffin for a security clearance. However, this depends on how well you are able to mitigate the government’s concerns if you do find yourself facing similar allegations. If you cannot advocate for yourself appropriately, not only will your career be damaged, but you could also find yourself facing the revocation or denial of your security clearance.
Find more articles about safeguarding your security clearance here.
Ryan C. Nerney, Esq. is a Senior Associate in the San Diego office of Tully Rinckey PLLC, where he focuses his practice primarily on national security law, with experience in federal employment and military matters. Ryan represents clients who have security clearance issues against agencies such as DHS, NSA, DIA, DOD, NRO, and DOE. He has represented numerous clients in security clearance revocation proceedings and has a proven record of saving clients’ jobs, as well as anticipating and resolving potential future issues with their security clearances. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (619)-357-7600.