How Alcohol and Drug Abuse Affect Security Clearances

For purposes of your security clearance, not all instances of drug and alcohol use are equal. Various factors surrounding the use of drug and alcohol use will help to inform the final decision.

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There are some misconceptions or misunderstandings about how alcohol and drug abuse issues affect an individual’s prospect for a security clearance.  These misunderstandings may also be affecting recruiting and human resource actions pertaining to candidates for both vacant positions and anticipated positions for contracts being contemplated.  These issues are covered in detail in other articles on this website: “Drug Involvement and Security Clearances” (April 2010), and “Alcohol Consumption and Security Clearances” (Oct. 2010).

In this article, I hope to make clear that seldom do clearance issues stand alone.  More typically, issues involving an individual’s behavior may be combined with others such as personal conduct, financial considerations, criminal conduct, etc., making clear decisions on the individual’s clearance eligibility or employment suitability very difficult.

Alcohol Consumption Issues

The security clearance concern regarding alcohol consumption, as delineated in the “Adjudicative Guidelines” approved in Dec. 2005, states: “Excessive consumption often leads to the exercise of questionable judgment or the failure to control impulses and can raise questions about an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness.”  Alcohol is a legal substance, but the abuse of alcohol is what causes problems.  Alcohol abuse is generally identified through either criminal conduct or a self-referral to a treatment program due to intervention or influence by family, friends or supervisory personnel.

Abuse of alcohol usually manifests itself in criminal conduct, such as driving under the influence (DUI) or assault.  It can also be identified with negative financial problems, such as failure to pay debts in a timely manner or spending beyond one’s means.  Criminal conduct can be combined with other non-alcohol related incidents such as shoplifting or theft, raising the prominence of criminal acts more so than the alcohol consumption itself.  Self-referral for treatment of alcohol abuse when there are no precipitating incidents is a commendable act by the individual, but the individual must follow through with completion of treatment, reduction or abstinence of alcohol consumption and other actions to demonstrate that the abuse will not recur.

Drug Involvement Issues

The security clearance concern regarding drug involvement, as delineated in the Adjudicative Guidelines, is that the “use of an illegal drug or misuse of a prescription drug can raise questions about an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness, both because it may impair judgment and because it raises questions about  a person’s ability or willingness to comply with laws, rules, and regulations.”   Use of an illegal drug is clearly criminal conduct while misuse of a prescription drug could be criminal, such as stealing or using someone else’s prescription, or merely poor judgment, such as using more of a prescription pain killer than the physician prescribed or directed.

Drug involvement can also manifest itself in areas of personal conduct, such as providing false information on security forms, or negative financial issues.  An individual who used illegal drugs five years ago, but provides false information on his/her Standard Form 86/electronic Questionnaire for Investigation Processing (eQIP) has elevated the personal conduct issue to a current situation while the drug use is mitigated by time.  This could result in a denial of a security clearance eligibility or suitability for employment determination.

The Process

Only after an individual signs an offer of employment can the process of clearance eligibility or employment suitability begin.  Typically, the individual submits an eQIP to an appropriate Government investigating agency; over 90 percent of the time that agency will be the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  Government or contract investigators perform appropriate checks and investigative efforts to ensure that sufficient information is obtained to offer a complete product to the personnel who will adjudicate the individual’s eligibility.  If the individual admits to issues involving alcohol abuse or drug use, all necessary checks are conducted, such as police and court records, rehabilitation and medical records, and as well as a personal interview of the individual to obtain information and clarification.  Upon receipt of the completed investigation, the adjudicative personnel review all available information and weigh the issues raised and mitigating information developed.  Sometimes, additional information is required, such as the current probation status or a medical evaluation.  After receipt of any additional information, a determination is made and transmitted to the hiring company.

A Caution

Information regarding an individual’s alcohol abuse or drug use is generally revealed to the employing company only due to completion of an eQIP.  DoD Manual 5220.22-M, the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM), Chapter 2, paragraph 2-202, clearly states that security personnel who review the eQIP for completeness are forbidden from sharing information contained in the eQIP within the company and the company is forbidden from using the information for any other reason than submission to authorized investigative agencies.  Additionally, the information provided by an individual on the eQIP is protected by the Privacy Act of 1975.  On those occasions when information surfaces due to self-reporting by the individual, reporting by other employees, or through media sources (newspapers, television), the company may take appropriate action relative to employment status and consider coordination with legal services to support their actions.

Summary

In summary, individuals who excessively use alcohol are no more clearable than those identified as drug users.  Someone with a DUI two months ago should be looked at more stringently than someone who used illegal substances five years ago; the offense has probably not been resolved through the court system and the possibility of the individual being assigned to probation could result in a clearance denial.

Recruiting and hiring practices should be based on an individual’s skill, knowledge and ability as reflected on his/her resume and displayed during an interview, if one is conducted.  The decision to hire or not should not be based on the opinion of a recruiter or human resources manager who has not been specifically trained or experienced in investigative or adjudicative processes.  The protection of the company reputation can be sustained by hiring an individual contingent upon his ability to maintain the appropriate clearance or suitability standard as detailed in the contract requirements.  Only a thorough investigation and professional adjudication of the investigative results can result in an appropriate clearance or suitability determination.

William Loveridge is a Facility Security Officer, a security consultant, a retired DoD personnel security adjudicator and a retired US Army Reserve Warrant Officer.