Applying for a security clearance is necessary for many positions at the federal and military levels.
While this process can be straightforward for those who are accustomed to the SF-86 questionnaire, investigation and interview process, and how to appeal following a denial or revocation, there still exist a few myths surrounding this matter.
Here are ten security clearance myths people tend to believe, and the real story, so you can better prepare yourself for joining the exclusive club of need-to-knows.
1. Being denied a security clearance is a permanent decision.
If you received a LOD and were denied security clearance or your clearance was revoked, you will receive notice as to the reasons for the decision and your options for appeal.
The appeals process is handled by an organization known as the Personnel Security Appeals Board (PSAB).
The PSAB makes the final decisions regarding appeals of denial or revocation of security clearance.
The process involves filing a direct written appeal to the PSAB.
The appeal must include relevant documents, statements, and command endorsements that seek to mitigate the denial or revocation.
You can also request a personal appearance with the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA), where you can be represented by a security clearance attorney.
You will be allowed to state your case during this appearance and respond to questions asked by the AJ and your attorney.
This is your chance to make your case to mitigate the reasons your clearance was denied or revoked.
Whether you filed a written response, or you requested a personal appearance, you will then wait for the PSAB to review all the documentation before the organization makes a final determination.
If the PSAB decides to overturn the denial, your clearance will be granted or reinstated.
In some cases, you may be given a “conditional” reinstatement, which may involve close monitoring by a superior so that clearance can be retained.
If the PSAB decides to uphold the denial, the appeals process is done, and you’ll have to wait at least a year from the date of that final decision before applying for clearance can be reconsidered.
2. Once you have a security clearance, all classified information is suddenly at your fingertips.
When you obtain a security clearance, you do so at a certain level.
There are Confidential, Secret, and Top-Secret clearance holders.
When you receive a security clearance designation, you can only access classified information at the level you qualify for or below.
3. Security eligibility expires, even if you’re still on the job.
Security clearance does expire.
For example, Confidential clearance takes 15 years to expire, Secret clearance ten years, and Top Secret five years.
However, your security clearance is active as long as you are actively working in a job that requires access to classified information.
Even if your original investigation expires, your clearance is still good.
The change happens when you leave your cleared position or contract, and your investigation is out of date.
Of course, if you get a new position within two years’ time, your security clearance will be reinstated without the need for a follow-up investigation.
If your investigation is out of date and two years passes without another position requiring a security clearance, you will need to reapply to receive a new security clearance investigation.
4. Don’t file for bankruptcy if you want to keep your security clearance.
Financial troubles can be a common reason for security clearance denial or revocation.
Things like poor credit, financial difficulties related to gambling and drugs, and recognizable patterns of unpaid debt can be major red flags and the determining factor for you losing your clearance altogether.
However, bankruptcy in of itself is not a good reason to deny or revoke clearance outright.
The investigators will be more interested in the reasons you filed for bankruptcy in the first place.
The fact is, bankruptcy makes you less of a security risk.
It’s when you don’t file that security concerns can happen.
When you file for bankruptcy, you effectively eliminate your debts or get them restructured, while the most important ones are paid off.
This shows that you are honest, reliable, and trustworthy, which are all qualities security clearance investigators are looking for.
Therefore, if you have a bankruptcy in your history, be honest on your SF-86 application and during the interview process, as it shows that you are taking care of your financial problems by doing the right thing.
5. Seeking help for mental health issues can cost you your security clearance.
A longstanding myth is that listing mental health treatment or counseling on the SF-86 almost always means a security clearance denial.
While it is true that extreme cases of mental health, such as schizophrenia and suicidal ideation or attempts can lead to a denial, the fact is that even these cases can be mitigated if the patient demonstrates ongoing management of the condition using accepted treatment modalities, like medication and psychotherapy.
It’s when you don’t seek out treatment, and your mental health becomes an issue that you could find yourself losing your clearance.
Once again, it is always best to be honest about your condition and to seek treatment, and then list that treatment on your SF-86.
Telling the truth is always the best policy, as is getting help for mental health problems if you need it.
6. Clearance cannot be transferred from one agency to another.
This security clearance myth is false, to a degree.
While it is true that your background investigations can be transferred to another agency, the investigation must meet that next agency’s requirements.
However, as long as the agencies follow the same clearance protocols, your security clearance should transfer without issue.
7. If you are ever debriefed from access, you could lose your security clearance.
A security clearance debriefing is a formality that agencies must follow when you no longer have access to classified information.
The purpose of the debriefing is to remind you of your responsibility to keep all that you’ve seen a secret.
While you no longer have access to classified information, you are still considered eligible for a security clearance.
This means your clearance could be reinstated at any time to the previous level.
You can also transfer your clearance to a new agency at the previous level, as long as that agency follows the same investigation protocols.
8. You will lose your clearance if you leave federal or military service.
If you leave a Federal agency or military service, you still have two years to obtain a position that requires security clearance before your investigation expires.
Even if you retire, your security clearance will remain valid.
9. Once your security clearance is revoked, you can’t get it back.
Having your clearance taken away is no picnic, but you do have an opportunity to have your security clearance reinstated.
To be eligible for reinstatement, the investigation that led to the revocation must not be out of date.
The agency that originally granted the clearance can revalidate your clearance, but only if there has been no break in service lasting two or more years, and the clearance must be for the same level as you held previously.
10. You can get security clearance or appeal a SC decision all on your own.
Only a government entity or federal agency can submit a security clearance on your behalf.
However, even with guidance from your employer, the process for obtaining a security clearance can be daunting.
The questionnaires and interviews can require you to dig deeply into your past and be forthright with your complete history.
To ensure you get the most favorable outcomes, whether you’re applying for a security clearance or you are appealing a decision for denial or revocation, you deserve the advice of an experienced security clearance attorney.
Contact the attorneys at Security Clearance Law Group, now serving a nationwide audience to help individuals like you obtain or retain their security clearance designations.