If you want to work for the military or another government agency, you may need a security clearance. Even people who’ll never deal with sensitive information may need clearances simply to work in buildings that house some of the nation’s deepest secrets.
All told, more than 3 million federal employees rely upon their security clearances. So do another 1.2 million contractors. But government officials have turned away many others by deciding not to entrust them with access to sensitive information.
Denials follow clear patterns
The government claims it awards or denies your security clearance based on its thorough investigation of your whole person. However, it tracks its denials across 13 different guidelines. Year after year, these denials follow the same patterns, and reasons for denials in 2019 matched those from 2018 and previous years. In order, they were:
- Financial concerns. If you don’t make strong, consistent efforts to pay off your debts, the government may view your actions as more than irresponsible. They may worry your debt would leave you vulnerable to bribery or blackmail.
- Personal conduct. This appears to be a broad, all-encompassing reason for denial. And in many ways, it is. Still, it’s worth noting that the government screens candidates for specific qualities such as honesty, trustworthiness and reliability. Many of these denials stem from candidates’ failures to disclose negative information. If the government learns about your omissions, it counts them against your conduct.
- Foreign influence. The government doesn’t want you to share sensitive or classified information with unauthorized foreign recipients. So, it might worry that you’re dating a foreign journalist or own a great deal of stock in a foreign company.
- Drugs. The use of illegal drugs—or a drug dependency—is a quick strike against you. Sometimes this is the case even if you’ve been clean for years afterward.
- Arrests and convictions. Investigators take a harsh view of criminal conduct when they review clearance applications. As a result, some applicants may wonder whether they need to list a traffic stop as an arrest or admit to charges when those charges were never brought to court.
As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to hide anything when you apply for a security clearance, but you can be strategic about the information you provide.
You can appeal a denial
The final thing to note about these denials is that they’re not always final. In 2019, nearly 30% of all appealed denials were eventually reversed, and the clearances were awarded. The key is to be strategic with the evidence you use to give the government a better understanding of your whole person.