By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
When individuals have difficulties in the security clearance process or anticipate future difficulties, we advise and represent them the investigation process. Typically, the best opportunity to avoid future security clearance difficulties is when government contractors or federal employees obtain legal advice early in the process, before they meet with a security clearance investigator. This article discusses some of the issues associated with preparing for and meeting with a security clearance investigator in the beginning of the security clearance process.
One of the most important considerations in meeting with a security clearance investigator for the first time is to be prepared in advance for the meeting, especially where there may be potential disqualifying issues or areas of concern. We find that most government contractors and federal employees have a general sense of potential clearance problems when they are completing their e-QIP / SF-86 application. Usually, a person is alerted to potential problems when they find that they may have to answer "yes" to a particular question where a disclosure is required.
For instance, suppose an individual has been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and has had to list “yes” under Section 22 of the SF-86 application. It can generally be assumed that the security clearance investigator will then have questions about the arrest, the disposition of the charge and whether or not the arrest demonstrates an ongoing alcohol issue. As a result, an individual should be well prepared to discuss these issues with the investigator. It may even be helpful to outline a full response in advance to the questions that could arise. If there are multiple issues of concern of the same type (i.e. multiple traffic arrests for alcohol use) there may need to be additional advance preparation to demonstrate to the investigator that these similar issues don’t represent a pattern and are unlikely to be repeated in the future.
In short, the key to a successful security clearance interview is advance preparation and honesty.
Gather Important Documents in Advance of Interview
Another important consideration with respect to an individual’s meeting with a security clearance investigator is to gather documents in advance that may be important to provide at the security clearance interview. This is important if there are issues that are certain to be raised with respect to a security clearance investigation. For instance, suppose an individual has previously declared bankruptcy and has documentation regarding their bankruptcy filing and also their efforts to resolve their financial debts. These types of documents may be important to provide early in the process to the investigator, depending on the nature of an individual case.
In short, when an individual knows that there are likely to be issues of concern with their security clearance, it is important to gather all of the relevant documentation related to the issue and then consult with an attorney to discuss the best method to present documents to an investigator in attempting to mitigate any security concerns
Answer the Questions Asked
One of the other issues we often notice in security investigator meetings is the tendency of some individuals to provide additional information that is not sought. We advise government contractors and federal employees to answer the questions asked by investigators, as honestly as possible, but to stick to the actual questions that are posed. On many occasions, individuals can get sidetracked or provide information that is not relevant to the questions asked by an investigator.
The usual key to a successful interview is to be as responsive as possible to any areas of concern but to make the meeting with the clearance investigator as “to the point” as possible. Investigators tend to have many cases to review and like to focus on their particular areas of concern. The better an individual can address specific issues raised by an investigator efficiently, the better the potential outcome. When issues arise, it is important to consult with counsel to obtain the best legal advice possible in presenting one’s response to difficult questions.
Be Prepared for Follow Up
Should the investigator need additional information regarding potential areas of concern or need to interview an individual a second time, we typically advise individuals to attempt to anticipate these requests in advance to the extent possible. For instance, if an investigator (during an initial interview) appears to have questions about one’s medical issues (example: psychological concerns), it may be helpful to attempt to obtain a letter from a medical professional which shows that the psychological concerns are not a significant issue. Doing so, in advance, can save time and effort later should the investigator come back with additional questions or may resolve the issue early.
When potential security clearance issues arise, it is important to obtain the advice of counsel where possible disqualification issues could arise. It is important to do so as early in the process as possible. Our law firm stands ready to advise individuals in the security clearance process, in addition to represent them as they proceed through the investigations process. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070.