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Legal Insider: 6 Tips for Government Contractors and Employees Navigating the Security Clearance Process

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.

By John V. Berry, Esq

We often are consulted on security clearance matters by federal employees and government contractors in the security clearance process.

In many cases, the security clearance application, investigation and adjudication process will be non-eventful. However, if problems arise, they are typically discovered as the federal employee or government contractor is in the process of preparing his or her security clearance application through e-QIP or the government’s Standard Form 86. If there are potential security clearance issues for an applicant, they should seek advice from an experienced attorney in this area as early as possible.

The following are some general tips for those individuals going through their first investigation — or their third re-investigation:

1. Take Time, Don’t Rush and Answer Security Clearance Forms Carefully

This is one of the most important tips for those undergoing the security clearance process.

Individuals often receive clearance denials because they did not take the time to read the questions asked or proofread their responses on the e-QIP/SF-86 application prior to submission. In some cases, if an individual does not take enough time to read a question and answers “no,” when they should have answered “yes,” a clearance investigator or adjudicator might conclude that the individual was attempting to be dishonest or hide information. This can lead to a clearance denial. Therefore, it is very important to carefully complete the e-QIP/SF-86 before submitting it.

2. Tell the Truth

This seems straightforward, but this recommendation cannot be overstated. Individuals applying for security clearances should be honest in all aspects of the clearance process. When an individual is dishonest during the clearance process, it could not only potentially bar the individual from receiving a security clearance, which would remain on his or her permanent clearance record, but it could also raise a number of other legal issues, including potential criminal issues.

It is often easier for a security clearance attorney to mitigate security clearance concerns involving past financial or prior drug or alcohol usage issues than to defend him or her against an allegation involving dishonesty in the clearance application or interview process.

Caveat: A security clearance applicant should consult with a security clearance attorney if there are any possible affirmative criminal disclosures or civil issues where answering “yes” could place the individual in potential legal harm. It is not often the case, but sometimes an individual may decide to avoid continuing in the security clearance process rather than answering adverse questions.

3. Examine Relevant Documents in Advance

Next, it’s important for individuals undergoing the security clearance process to take the necessary time to gather and review relevant documents related to any potential security clearance problem in advance.

Taking this step will help an individual in three ways: (a) it will help an individual remember all the details of the potential security concern, such as a past arrest, financial issue or foreign contact information, in preparation for answering questions; (b) the documentation may help to mitigate the security concerns now, if necessary; and (c) it is helpful to start organizing the information now as opposed to later when deadlines for responding may occur on short notice.

4. Prepare Yourself for the Interview

If an individual believes there’s a chance problem areas exist in a security clearance application, he or she should expect to be asked about these areas by the assigned investigator. The investigative interview can vary in duration from an hour to several hours, depending on whether significant security concerns exist. A significant amount of the discussion that comes up during the investigative interview will be obtained by the investigator through reviewing the e-QIP or SF-86. Investigators carry credentials identifying them as representatives of DCSA. When the interview starts, they will present their credentials upon introduction.

Early preparation for a security clearance interview can help fully explain any problem areas. Unfortunately, many individuals go into security clearance interviews without thinking about or preparing for the issues that could arise and often provide incomplete information. Interview preparation can also help the individual’s confidence when meeting with the investigator to explain application responses that raise any security concerns.

Additionally, it is important to keep calm and not get defensive during a security clearance interview when asked about potential security concerns in a security clearance application. Getting into an argument with an investigator will never benefit an individual since the investigator can have significant influence over the application process in the initial stages.

5. Be Professional With the Security Clearance Investigator

It’s important for all security clearance applicants to treat an investigator with professionalism and to be polite. If an investigator attempts to contact you, be timely and courteous in your response. Even if it’s inconvenient to meet at a certain time or return calls, not doing so in a timely manner can be detrimental. Promptly responding to the investigator can give the investigator a positive impression, especially if the investigator will be providing a recommendation regarding your ability to obtain or retain a clearance.

6. Be Patient During the Security Clearance Process

Finally, it’s important to understand the security clearance process can often take a few to several months to complete depending upon a number of other factors, including:

  • whether the individual is a federal employee or government contractor;
  • the number or significance of the security concerns;
  • delays in obtaining responses from federal agencies in seeking an investigative file;
  • the general clearance investigative backlog; and
  • the specific employer or clearance adjudication agency involved.

There are many other considerations that can also delay a security clearance adjudication so it is important to remain patient during the investigation.

If you need assistance with a security clearance issue, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also like and visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

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