WHAT IS DOHA?
The Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) is the largest component of the Defense Legal Services Agency and is charged with many responsibilities. DOHA provides hearings and issues decisions in personnel security clearance cases for contractor personnel doing classified work for all DoD components and 24 other Federal Agencies and Departments; conducts personal appearances and issues decisions in security clearance cases for DoD civilian employees and military personnel (when requested); settles claims for uniformed service pay and allowances, and claims of transportation carriers for amounts deducted from them for loss or damage; conducts hearings and issues decisions in cases involving claims for DoD School Activity benefits, and TRICARE/CHAMPUS payment for medical services; and functions as a central clearing house for DoD alternative dispute resolution activities and as a source of third party neutrals for such activities. The DOHA website provides extensive information on all DOHA functions. Although its responsibilities are varied, the one that is most important to members of industry who work with DoD is the personnel security clearance hearings and appeals process.
The hearings and appeals process for contractor personnel is distinctly different from the one for DoD military and civilian members. When a military or civilian employee appeals an adverse security clearance determination, DOHA will conduct a hearing and render a recommendation to the appropriate DoD Personnel Security Appeals Board (PSAB). The PSAB then reviews all pertinent information, including information and documentation provided or developed during the hearing process, and renders the final determination regarding an individual’s eligibility to hold a security clearance. In the case of a contractor, the DOHA Administrative Judge (AJ) either reviews the case or conducts a hearing and renders a decision.
the hearing and appeal process (as it pertains to industry personnel)
First, the need for the individual to have an investigation must be established. Normally, this is based on the requirements and conditions of the contract issued by the government agency soliciting work. Once the need is established, the individual submits an electronic Questionnaire for Investigation Processing (eQIP) through their employing company to the DoD Central Adjudications Facility – Industry (DoDCAF-I) where a determination regarding an interim security clearance is made. Regardless of whether the interim is granted or not, the eQIP is passed on to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for the conduct of the appropriate investigation.
Upon completion of the investigation, the case file is returned to the DoDCAF-I for review. The DoDCAF-I has guidelines for determining whether the case will be worked at that location or forwarded to DOHA for further review. If the completed investigation is favorable under these guidelines, a favorable clearance eligibility is made and documented in the Case Adjudication and Tracking System (CATS) which feeds the information into the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS) where industry security personnel can retrieve it. DOHA handles those cases in which DoDCAF-I has reached a preliminary decision that it is clearly not consistent with the national interest to grant or continue a security clearance for access to classified information.
A DOHA adjudicator reviews the case file and decides on which available option is best based on the information contained in the file and the adjudicator’s experience and training. The adjudicator has the option to grant or continue the clearance eligibility without further action. The adjudicator may send an interrogatory to the individual requesting additional information or documentation regarding the issue(s) which cause concern. The adjudicator may feel that sufficient information exists to issue a Letter of Intent (LOI) with an attached Statement of Reasons (SOR) to deny or revoke the individual’s eligibility for a security clearance.
The LOI advises the individual of his/her due process rights, time frames for acknowledging receipt of the LOI and for response submission, general instructions for responding, and a point of contact at DOHA. The SOR provides specific information that has lead to the security concerns and the adjudicative guidelines that apply in the individual’s case. If the individual decides not to pursue the case, the case is closed as a “Loss of Jurisdiction” in JPAS. If the individual decides to have the case reviewed by an AJ, he/she can select one of two courses of action. They may request a File of Relevant Material (FORM) review or an Industrial Security Clearance Review (ISCR) hearing.
In either of these selections, I highly recommend that the individual consult with an attorney who has experience with DOHA cases. Such an attorney knows how to contact the DOHA adjudications division and attempt to resolve or mitigate the case before a hearing is scheduled. The majority of DOHA decisions are resolved in this fashion. The DOHA website provides detailed information on the Industrial Security and Personal Appearance Programs, Prehearing Guidance, Appeal Instructions, redacted Clearance Decisions and Personal Appearance Guidance.
In a FORM review, the DOHA counsel submits a brief and relevant documents to the AJ and the individual submits a response to the LOI with relevant supporting documents to the AJ. The AJ reviews all information and issues a decision to either grant/continue or deny the clearance eligibility. In an ISCR hearing, a much more formal and time-consuming process, results in a formal hearing (trial) and a decision by the AJ. Either party can appeal the decision and file a brief with the DOHA Appeal Board. The decision of the Appeal Board is final. If the final decision by DOHA is to deny/revoke the clearance eligibility, the individual may go through a re-application process one year after the decision date.