Will mistakes cause you to lose your Personnel Clearance?
Holding a Personnel Clearance comes with a pretty strict set of standards for your conduct as both an employee and a private citizen. Whether it’s the standards found in 32 CFR Part 117, NISPOM, or the requirements you have to adhere to, like reporting requirements from Security Executive Agent Directive 3 (SEAD 3), cleared employees are expected to follow a lot of rules. But how much does it take to have this clearance taken away, and what are the ways PCLs are lost?
According to ClearanceJobs, the DoD only denied or revoked 1,421 security clearances in 2021, despite 4.2 million people currently hold clearances (though approximately a third of these are not in active use). However, about four times as many clearances were denied or revoked in the years prior to the pandemic. Typically, the way you lose your clearance is having it expire while you aren’t holding a job that requires you to use it. If you are between jobs, you have a year to find another cleared position before your clearance expires and you’ll have to restart the PCL process to obtain a new one. However, there are ways to lose your PCL as a result of your actions.
How Can You Lose a PCL?
Your behavior both in and outside of work can affect your ability to hold a PCL. Major breaches in the security requirements can result in an investigation and loss of PCL, like unauthorized disclosure of classified information or if you become an insider threat. Alcohol and substance abuse and any criminal charges can also cause your clearance to be revoked. Marijuana use is included in these requirements even in states where it’s legalized, as it’s not currently legal at the federal level.
When you apply for a clearance, you can be denied for refusing to renounce foreign citizenship, sell foreign property, or close a foreign bank account. If you are uncooperative during the process to initially obtain a clearance, the FSO can mark your application with an adverse adjudication, which means not only will the PCL be denied, but that label will follow you and likely prevent you from getting cleared in the future.
Smaller offenses can also result in a loss of clearance, though one mistake isn’t going to result in your PCL immediately being taken from you. Instead, your company’s graduated scale of discipline will be applied for repeat offenses, and if you continue to make mistakes like not properly storing classified information, bringing a phone into a SCIF or failing to report foreign travel, it will call into question if you can be trusted to safeguard.
Traffic violations can also be an unexpected way your PCL can be lost. Any traffic violations that result in a fine more than $300 have to be reported, and if this is a repeated occurrence, it can be seen as a reckless pattern of behavior that may put your PCL at risk.
Misconceptions Around PCL Revocation
While alcohol and substance abuse can put your PCL at risk, if you report it and choose to seek treatment, you’re far more likely to be able to keep your PCL. Don’t be afraid of seeking out mental health or addiction services. According to the DCSA, between 2012 and 2018, there wasn’t a single individual who had their eligibility for a clearance revoked or denied based solely on seeking mental health care. There were other disqualifying issues, such as non-adherence to medical recommendations, and in some cases for not seeking care. It’s always better to report when you’re struggling and get the care you need. While you seek treatment, you’ll likely have your access to classified information revoked, but it will be restored once you are ready to return to work, and you can be in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous while holding a clearance.
Self-reporting can be daunting as well, and some employees would try to sweep minor things under the rug rather than report them. However, this is far more harmful and more likely to result in a lost clearance. For example, you need to report any time police handcuff you, even if you aren’t brought to jail, as this still counts as an arrest. Don’t wait until the results of a trial to let your FSO know what’s happening.
With traffic violations, there are some states, like California, where you’ll likely pay more than $300 for all tickets, including minor speeding infractions. However, a significant portion of this is actually fees, like court construction fees, and you only need to report more than $300 in fines not including these fees. The court should be able to provide a breakdown of what you’re paying upon request. Keep in mind that there are cases where you’ll have to report traffic violations less than $300 if it’s a misdemeanor. In general, make sure you’re clear on what counts as a security infraction and how to report them, which can help you avoid a lot of unnecessary trouble.
If you’re an FSO looking for help managing your employees’ PCLs or training them on how to maintain them, Adamo can help. Our FSO support services can assist you in annual refresher training, PCL management, reinvestigations and more. Contact us today to learn how we can make a difference for you.