Over at the foreign our moderator fields frequent questions from security clearance applicants regarding issues in their past they worry may become an issue in their clearance application today. The reality is – you’re more likely to be denied a security clearance for trying to hide an issue from your past than you are for simply admitting it, and demonstrating how you’ve mitigated the negative behavior.

A recent comment on the ClearanceJobsBlog Discussions site asks:

I was arrested 5 years ago for possession of cocaine. I did not test for the drug – blood and hair. The drug was found during an EMT call to my home which the police came to also. Eventually the charges were dropped and the records were sealed by the court – not a request by me. I am currently applying for a job in IT requiring a Public Trust security clearance. I know I must include this in the security form but am curious as to the impact on my ability to obtain the clearance…I have excellent credit and no history of alcohol and/or drug abuse other than this arrest.

The benefit of the security clearance process is that while there are 13 adjudicative criteria considered in the process – drug use being one of them – adjudicators consider the ‘whole person‘ in making their decision. Outside of continuous, ongoing drug use, there is no single issue which will automatically result in a clearance denial.

But the burden is on the applicant to prove the issue has been mitigated. In the above case, the applicant noted they had:

  1. Never done drugs.
  2. Divorced the drug-dependent individual.
  3. Been in therapy for three years.

These issues, including the passage of time, are very likely to mitigate any actual charges. Fortunately, this applicant knows that despite the record being sealed and the issue expunged from a criminal record, it still should be listed on the SF86. Falsification remains one of the highest causes for clearance denial, and it often results from issues like this – an applicant is nervous about a singular lapse in judgment and assumes a sealed or expunged record won’t appear in a background investigation. They then leave the charge off of their SF86. The problem is a federal background investigation will discover things that won’t appear in your typical employment screening. If you have ever appeared in court or been charged with a crime, you will do best to list it – and mitigate it – within your security clearance application.

You don’t need to go into the details. Separating yourself from drug-involved individuals, along with therapy and a clean record in the years since all go far to proving a commitment to changing behavior.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer