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Legal Insider: Why do Security Clearances Get Denied?

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement, and private sector employee matters.

The federal government uses 13 adjudicative guidelines to determine whether federal employees and contractors should be eligible for a security clearance to gain or maintain access to classified information. These guidelines include:

  • Guideline A: Allegiance to the United States
  • Guideline B: Foreign Influence
  • Guideline C: Foreign Preference
  • Guideline D: Sexual Behavior
  • Guideline E: Personal Conduct
  • Guideline F: Financial Considerations
  • Guideline G: Alcohol Consumption
  • Guideline H: Drug Involvement
  • Guideline I: Psychological Conditions
  • Guideline J: Criminal Conduct
  • Guideline K: Handling Protected Information
  • Guideline L: Outside Activities
  • Guideline M: Use of Information Technology Systems

Based on the 42 decisions issued by the Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) since January 1, 2016, by far the most common reason why a security clearance is denied is based on Guideline F. Financial consideration issues usually arise when an applicant for a security clearance has too many outstanding or delinquent debts, is facing bankruptcy, has credit report problems, or has unaddressed tax liens.

The second most common reason why a security clearance is denied is based on Guideline E. Personal conduct issues can involve a broad range of misconduct, such as information regarding an individual’s prior termination, arrest, or domestic incident, lying on security clearance forms, or basically any other types of general wrongdoing, criminal, or otherwise.

The third most common reason why a security clearance is denied is based on Guideline H. Drug involvement or abuse is considered to be the illegal use of a drug or use of a legal drug in a manner that deviates from approved medical direction (e.g., overuse of prescription pain medication).

Although the 42 security clearance decisions issued by DOHA since January 1, 2016, involved 26 cases based solely on Guideline F, 16 cases were based on one or more of the following adjudicative guidelines:

  • Guideline F: Financial Considerations (34)
  • Guideline E: Personal Conduct (11)
  • Guideline H: Drug Involvement (6)
  • Guideline J: Criminal Conduct (2)
  • Guideline B: Foreign Influence (1)
  • Guideline G: Alcohol Consumption (1)

It is important to note that the reported DOHA decisions generally cover security clearance appeals from DoD contractor employees, but the decisions provide good insight into common reasons why the federal government denies security clearances.

We represent federal employees in employment and security clearance matters. If you need assistance with a federal retirement or an employment issue, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

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