Lindy Kyzer is a senior editor for ClearanceJobs.com. This article should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.
Security clearance processing delays are a major pain point for government and industry. A more than 700,000 case backlog has made it impossible for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to come up for air. It’s still slogging through cases that have been pending for months. Currently, the fastest 90 percent of top secret security clearances are taking 381 days. It’s 240 days for a secret clearance investigation.
Industry is feeling the pinch even more. The National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Council (NISPPAC) reported that industry top secret security clearances were taking 545 days. That’s nearly a year and a half spent waiting. Figures like this continue to make the fight for government cybersecurity talent tough, as many professionals are unwilling to partake in a new employee onboarding process that extends into years.
You’ve been fired, suspended or retired — what happens to your security clearance? In the wake of the issues surrounding ousted former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, many individuals asked what really happens to a security clearance when you leave a job?
If you are fired, that doesn’t necessarily mean you lose your security clearance (including the case of Flynn who was “asked to step down” from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 2014). If you’re fired due to contract loss, or even due to a personality issue with management, there is no negative effect on your security clearance. Your clearance will remain “current” for a period of two years and you can be easily onboarded into a new job (like advisor to the President).
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If you are fired for cause, and an employer decides to enter an incident report in your security personnel file, your security clearance will fall into a ‘loss of jurisdiction’ status. That’s a tricky ‘catch-22’ situation that causes many security clearance holders to be unable to find a new cleared job, with future employers unwilling to accept the security clearance baggage of working through the incident report.
The typical rules of due process and fair employment may not apply to you as a security clearance holder. The reality is that national security will always trump concerns about personal rights. A contributor to ClearanceJobs recently related the story of how he was put on administrative leave while his employer (the CIA) investigated the case of convicted spy Robert Hanssen.
“While I was asked to ‘leave’ my classified work ‘to protect the agency’ during the 9-months of the FBI/CIA investigation, my security clearance was neither suspended nor revoked by the [cognizant security authority]. I was reassigned to work which did not require me to access current classified materials. I took a history fellowship within the Center for the Studies of Intelligence, while I awaited my exoneration. Once exonerated, I went back to work and finished out my career (as my bio indicates, it was a very good career).”
Being put on administrative leave while the government investigates espionage is an incredibly rare example of the kind of incident that may cause you to lose eligibility for a period of time. The moral of the story is that eligibility to access classified information is always granted based on “need to know” at the discretion of the government (even Fortune 500 government contractors are only conferred access to classified information based on their relationship with the government).
Have a question about the security clearance process, federal suitability or cleared careers? Post your question in the comments or email it to email@example.com. The ClearanceJobs.com Advisory Council will help you navigate the ever-changing security clearance process.