bob eatinger headshotBy Robert Eatinger

Eatinger is a partner practicing in Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig’s Tysons Corner, VA office


[Mar. 27 2020, Tysons Corner]   On any given day, hundreds of thousands of Americans are somewhere in the security clearance process, either in the initial investigation, reinvestigation, or adjudication process.  If you are one of those Americans, the COVID-19 coronavirus could affect your security clearance process?  The two obvious potential impacts of the virus are timing and, more concerning, eligibility.

With respect to timing, the combined effect of the government’s reduced staffing and the restrictions social distancing put on investigators’ ability to reach background contacts could add delay, perhaps quite a bit of delay, to the completion of background investigations and resolution of clearance adjudications.

The second, more concerning, the impact will be to those Americans whose financial history was solid before the virus, but who may be unable to pay all of their bills because their business or their employer’s business has been shut down, or because of medical bills in excess of their insurance, or the demands of taking care of very ill relatives.

Fortunately, the fact the coronavirus and the measures to combat it are going to create personal and financial hardships for people with or seeking security clearances is recognized.  Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote a March 11, 2019 letter to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (D/OPM) asking them to issue guidance to U.S. departments and agencies not to “penalize employees’ clearances or determinations of trustworthiness due to circumstances associated with coping with COVID-19.”  More recently, the Chairman and President of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), jointly wrote to the Acting DNI, the Acting D/OPM, the Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD(A&S) pointing out the risk that the security clearance process could “seize up” and increase the backlog of clearance adjudications.

For those who clearances will be adjudicated by the Department of Defense’s Central Adjudication Facility (CAF), the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency announced [March 24, 2020] that the CAF will apply the “whole person concept” to people they are considering.  CAF noted it applies the mitigating factors in the security clearance adjudication guidelines published by the DNI in his role as Security.  Specifically, the guidelines for financial consideration take into account when contributing circumstances “were largely beyond the person’s control (e.g., loss of employment, a business downturn, unexpected medical emergency, a death, divorce or separation, clear victimization by predatory lending practices, or identity theft), and the individual acted responsibly under the circumstances.”

While you have no control over how quickly the government can complete your background investigation or adjudication, you can mitigate the impact of lost income by “acting responsibly under the circumstances” created by the coronavirus.  Keep a log of your spending to demonstrate you acted responsibly by minimizing expenses where you could and show that you did not miss paying a bill payment for any reason other than the income you lost due to the measures taken to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

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Posted in: National Security

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