When it Comes to Your Security Clearance, How is Your Judgment

Posted by Greg Rinckey


Security Clearance HoldersWhat causes an individual to be ineligible for a security clearance? Many people believe that only serious misconduct will result in the failure to obtain a security clearance. By “serious,” I’m referring to criminal charges, excessive financial delinquencies and illicit drug use, just to name a few. While it is true that these are examples of issues which could negatively impact one’s eligibility for a security clearance, even “less serious” acts of misconduct can affect one’s eligibility.

The reason is that agencies are not solely concerned about the conduct itself. Agencies are also concerned about your judgment, or potential lack thereof, which led to the conduct. The underlying determination that agencies want to make is whether or not a security clearance applicant exercises good judgment, and thus can be trusted.

When an agency evaluates an individual for eligibility for a security clearance, it applies an individual’s background to the Adjudicative Guidelines. One of the guidelines is called “Personal Conduct.” This is a broad guideline which evaluates an individual’s integrity, judgment, and responsibility.

An individual who does not exercise good judgment in his personal life may not exercise good judgment with respect to the handling of classified information. For this reason, even conduct which is not of a criminal nature or would ordinarily be considered a serious act can potentially be used as a basis to deny one’s clearance. These “minor” examples of poor judgment are more likely than not to come out during a lifestyle polygraph because many individuals feel pressured to talk about everything.

In my practice, I have seen the following examples of acts which have impacted one’s eligibility for a security clearance:

  1. Consuming alcohol while stationed in a location in which the use of alcohol is prohibited;
  2. Use of prostitutes in a country in which prostitution is legal (some think that because it is legal, it’s not an issue for purposes of obtaining or maintaining a clearance);
  3. Moderately using alcohol after being diagnosed as alcohol dependent, even if the diagnosis was made more than ten years ago with no other alcohol related incidents; and
  4. Underage possession of alcohol if enough time hasn’t passed since the incident and date of security clearance application.

The above are examples of conduct which, at the time, may not have seemed serious in nature, but to an agency may raise questions regarding the individual’s judgment. Generally, a single minor incident which reflects a lack of judgment will not result in the denial or revocation of a clearance. However, multiple minor incidents show a pattern and could cause the agency to determine that overall, the applicant does not make good choices.

Does this mean that you have to be perfect? No. However, you do need to realize that clearance holders are held to a higher standard. If you have or are thinking about getting a clearance, this should be in the back of your mind anytime you are in a situation in which you, even briefly, second guess whether engaging in certain conduct is a good idea. If you are asking yourself this question, then chances are, for purposes of a security clearance, it is not.

Nicole Smith, Tully RinckeyGreg Rinckey, Tully RinckeyGreg T. Rinckey, Esq. is one of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s two founding partners. Tully Rinckey PLLC is one of the largest federal sector employment, military law and security clearance representation firms in the country. Mr. Rinckey is a recognized leader in the military and federal employment law sectors.

Nicole Smith, Esq., a Tully Rinckey PLLC Associate, represents government employees and contractors in a wide range of security clearance matters, to include providing security clearance application assistance and working with clients going through appeals processes for denials, revocations and suspensions. Ms. Smith spent nine years as a national security background investigator.

This information does not constitute legal advice.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 23, 2015 6:41 am

2 thoughts on “When it Comes to Your Security Clearance, How is Your Judgment”

  1. I am interested in obtaining a “Top Secret Clearance” to become a member of the United States Secret Services (USSS) Agency. My background is a mess. Phone #3013778783. Thanks

    1. Emile, In my experience, most circumstances can be explained and concerns resolved. But, it does take some thoughtful consideration and effort. Make a list of your bad history concerns and seek legal help. If you would like to speak further with a member of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s National Security Law Practice Group, call (202) 787-1900. The information provided here does not constitute legal advice.

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