The security clearance adjudication process for military and civilian employees of the Department of Defense (DOD) is significantly different than the process used to determine security clearance eligibility for defense contractor employees. This article is designed to give military and civilian employees of the DOD a clear understanding of what to expect when an initial security clearance request is made on their behalf.
At the very beginning of the process, the employee will be asked to complete an electronic security questionnaire known as an e-QIP. The employee should read the questions on the e-QIP very carefully and answer truthfully. I have seen far too many cases where an individual is denied a clearance for the sole reason they provided false information on their security clearance questionnaire. The sad fact is that in these cases, the information these individuals were trying to hide from the DOD would not have prevented them from receiving a clearance.
After the e-QIP is completed, an investigation of the individual’s background, usually conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), begins. Once the background investigation is complete, the case file is sent to one of several Central Adjudication Facilities (CAFs). The vast majority of cases are handled by the following CAFs: DON CAF (Navy); USA CCF (Army); AFCAF (Air Force); WHS CAF (Washington Headquarters Services).
If no derogatory or disqualifying information is developed during the investigation, the CAF will find the individual eligible for a security clearance, and the processing of the case ends. If potentially disqualifying information does develop, an adjudicator will review the case. If, after considering all of the information and the adjudicative guidelines, the adjudicator is unable to grant the security clearance request, the CAF will send the individual a Letter of Intent to Deny Eligibility for Security Clearance (LOI). Attached to the LOI will be a Statement of Reasons (SOR). The SOR will detail the reasons why the CAF could not grant the security clearance request. In order to continue the processing of the case, and to avoid an automatic denial, the individual must file an answer to the SOR within the time specified by the CAF. At this point the individual will be advised that he or she can request their investigative file. Everyone should request it as it may be useful later in the process.
Once a timely answer to the SOR is filed, an adjudicator at the CAF will review it and determine whether the information provided was sufficient to overcome the CAF’s original concerns. If the adjudicator determines that the information was sufficient, then the individual is deemed eligible for a security clearance, and the process is deemed complete. If the adjudicator determines that the information provided was not sufficient to overcome their concerns, the CAF will send the individual a Letter of Denial (LOD), which will explain why the CAF is still unable to grant the security clearance request. Along with the LOD, the individual will be advised that they can appeal the CAF’s final decision in one of two ways. First, the individual can appeal in writing directly to the DOD Component Personnel Security Appeal Board (PSAB). Second, the individual can request a Personal Appearance (PA) before an Administrative Judge (AJ) with the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA). At the PA, the individual will be given the opportunity to testify, offer written evidence that supports their case, call witnesses, and finally, to try to persuade the AJ that their request for a security clearance should be granted. Although the Government has the right to be represented by an attorney at the PA, they rarely exercise this right. Instead, in most cases the individual will be questioned directly by the AJ. Following the PA, the AJ writes a recommended decision that is forwarded to the DOD Component PSAB. The PSAB will consider the AJ’s recommended decision, and then make the final decision. This final decision ends the process.
Although in the end the PSAB makes the final decision regardless of the type of appeal requested, in my opinion, the vast majority of individuals are better off requesting a PA. A persuasive recommended decision in the employee’s favor by a DOHA AJ can go a long way toward convincing the PSAB that the CAF was wrong and that a security clearance should be granted.