Although all cleared federal contractors are in theory trained on the type of information that must be self-reported by security clearance holders, few federal agencies standardize that training. For example, the National Industrial Security Policy Operating Manual (DoD 5220.22-M) states only that a “contractor shall provide all cleared employees with some form of security education and training at least annually” and that training “shall reinforce the information provided during the initial security briefing and shall keep cleared employees informed of appropriate changes in security regulations.” Id. at § 3-107.

I conducted a brief review of the internet that established a wide disparity in security training quality. For example, one large defense contractor vaguely instructs employees to “report anything you observe in yourself or another’s conduct or character that could affect his/her ability to protect classified information” Conversely, another large defense contractor instructs its employees to report, among other issues, any “uncontrolled use of alcohol, or illegal narcotics” – seemingly implying only a need to self-report substance abuse that rises to the level of an addiction. The result is that, while security clearance holders are being punished for not self-reporting certain issues, it remains unclear how and why those individuals should have necessarily known the rules.

If you are worried about whether or not you should self-report your own situation, here is a compilation of several agency publications that may prove helpful. Note, however, that this is only a guide. You should always contact your own agency’s security office to determine whether more specific reporting requirements exist (especially if you work on a Special Access Program).

You MUST self-report to your agency’s security office if you…

Counter-Intelligence Issues

  • Are approached or contacted by ANY individual seeking unauthorized access to classified material
  • Become aware of anything regarding a colleague that could be a counter-intelligence concern

Legal Issues

  • Are arrested; subject to criminal charges (including charges that are dismissed); receive citations, tickets, or summonses; or are detained by federal, state, or other law-enforcement authorities for violations of the law within or outside of the U.S. (NOTE: Traffic citations/tickets/fines are reportable only if they exceed $300 and only when the fine is assessed, unless drugs or alcohol were involved. Court fees or other administrative costs associated with the traffic citation/ticket/fine should not be added to the final assessed amount.)
  • File for bankruptcy, regardless of whether it is for personal or business-related reasons
  • Have your wages garnished for any reason
  • Have your home foreclosed upon
  • Are named defendant in any civil lawsuit

Citizenship Issues

  • Change citizenship or acquire dual citizenship

Life Circumstances

  • Have legal action resulting in a name change
  • Marry or cohabitate with a person (NOTE: A cohabitant is a person who lives with you in a spouse-like relationship or with a similar bond of affection or obligation, but is not your legal spouse, child, or other relative.)
  • Are hospitalized for mental health reasons
  • Are treated for drug or alcohol abuse
  • Use an illegal drug or a legal drug in a manner that deviates from approved medical direction

You should also consider self-reporting any situations in which you receive a large amount of cash (e.g. inheritance, gambling winnings, etc.) This is particularly true if you work for an intelligence agency or the DEA.

Foreign Travel

  • Have business-related travel to a sensitive or non-sensitive country (Use common sense as to what constitutes a “sensitive country” and/or consult internal agency publications.)
  • Have personal foreign travel to sensitive country
  • Hold a Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) clearance and travel to any foreign country (sensitive or non-sensitive) for personal or business

Foreign Interaction

  • Have substantive contact with any foreign national not related to you and previously self-reported
  • Are employed by, represent, or have other business-related associations with a foreign or foreign-owned interest, or with a non-U.S. citizen or other individual who is both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of a foreign country
  • Have an immediate family member who assumes residence in a sensitive country, and when that living situation changes; e.g., your family member returns to the U.S. or moves to another country, sensitive or non-sensitive
  • Undertake a foreign adoption or propose to host a foreign exchange student

Of course, you should keep in mind that anything you self-report may have ramifications: it can be used against you as an admission in criminal proceedings or a subsequent security clearance revocation. When in doubt, consider talking with legal counsel first.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at